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July 13, 2011

Residents urge for water plan to include aggressive conservation efforts

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DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

At three meetings this week, the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority has received public input on water demand forecasts by AECOM Technology Corporation for the Charlottesville-Albemarle area. The commonwealth of Virginia is requiring localities to submit a comprehensive water supply plan by Nov. 2.

Kim Shorter, AECOM Technology Corporation

“The intent of the Virginia regulations was to have communities think about their long-range future because water supply takes a long time to develop,” said Kim Shorter, a water supply specialist with AECOM, in an interview. “Virginia wanted people to think about drought conditions and think about long-term plans.”

The 50-year water supply plan approved first in 2006 and again in 2011 uses a new dam and supply pipeline to produce 18.7 million gallons per day by 2055. AECOM’s forecast revises that need downward to 16.26 mgd by 2055, a 13 percent drop, and at 17.01 mgd by 2060. 

“Between fiscal years 2002 and 2003 there’s about a 20 percent drop in average per capita water use,” Shorter said. “The changes continued for an eight-year history, so we feel that the last five years of data are an appropriate basis for planning.”

AECOM’s draft report received a lot of praise at a meeting Tuesday attended by about 35 people at Burley Middle School. However, opponents of a new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir challenged the engineering firm’s assumptions about water conservation and the city’s population growth.

Rebecca Quinn is chair of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, which favors dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir instead of building a new dam, as called for the approved $140 million urban water supply plan.

“I do not believe conservation has been adequately accounted for,” said Quinn. “We have got to include the savings with faucets and showerheads. You may think it’s negligible, but it may make a difference to us.”

Shorter said faucets and showerheads had been shown in other areas to have a negligible impact on water demand. However, she praised the “very low” per capita usage in the community today and said there was room to improve with the widespread installation of more efficient toilets.

Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, said he worried about water supply planning that depended too heavily on future conservation efforts. 

“I hope as a community we embrace conservation, but we shouldn’t count our chickens before they are hatched,” Williamson said. 

While projected water needs are on the decline, population estimates for the urban area remain steady. However, the report’s forecast that Charlottesville would increase in population from 43,475 today to 71,500 in 2060 raised some eyebrows.

Albemarle resident Kirk Bowers

Kirk Bowers, a county resident, challenged the assumptions around the city’s population growth that he said indicated 7,000 new units of housing would have to be built.

“Where are they going to be put? Where is the land for them? Is this all going to be vertical construction?” Bowers asked. “I think your figures may be a bit high on that issue and I’d like to ask you to look at that again.”

Shorter said AECOM relied on each locality to provide its own population estimates for the study.

“If you look historically in Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville, there has been very slow steady growth [in population] and we do forecast that to continue,” Shorter said. “For Charlottesville, that is based upon information provided by the city planning division.”

“I didn’t see anything that caused a big concern,” said Shorter in an interview. “At the end of the day I don’t know if it matters for this study if [population growth] is in the city of Charlottesville or in Albemarle County, because it’s the same source of water.”

AECOM will present its final forecast to local officials in September.


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