Drought warning may become emergency

The Charlottesville area is smack in the middle of what Public Works Director Judith Mueller called the worst drought since 2002. With scant rainfall in August, typically the area’s driest time of year, the city and county declared a Drought Warning on August 16, complete with mandatory restrictions on watering plants, washing cars and serving drinking water at restaurants. Since then, the total demand for water has dropped 7.9 percent, according to Thomas Frederick of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA). But even combined with last week’s rainy days, that doesn’t mean the warning will be lifted anytime soon.

"We won’t be able to determine the time frame [for ending the warning] in advance," says Frederick. "We continue to look at the risk assessment of running low on water supply based on the current weather conditions."

The 7.9-percent drop in water usage exceeded RWSA’s goal of 5 percent. Frederick says that stream levels, after running as low as 15 percent of normal volume in the past two weeks, are back up to 28 percent. Area reservoirs, however, are down. The Sugar Hollow Reservoir is the lowest, sitting at 7′ below run-over.

If current conditions don’t change, the area could move from a Drought Warning to a Drought Emergency, which would impose tighter water-use restrictions. The goal for water-demand reduction would rise to 20 percent.

"That’s pretty challenging," says Frederick. "If we get some rain within the next 30 days, we may not have to go to an emergency. If rainfalls stay scarce, then unfortunately that will increase the risk that we could have to."

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