FARMVILLE – Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has taken its Appomattox River Basin drought status up a notch in severity.
A “drought warning” was issued Tuesday afternoon for Farmville, Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward, following the drought watch issued approximately two weeks ago.
Other affected localities and public water suppliers included in the drought warning area are the counties of Amelia, Appomattox, Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Nottoway, Powhatan and Prince George, and the towns of Appomattox, Blackstone, Burkeville and Crewe.
Voluntary water conservation activities remain the order of the day but DEQ states that “drought warning responses are required when the onset of a significant drought event is imminent. Water conservation and contingency plans that were prepared during the drought watch stage should be implemented.”
The Town of Farmville is not in panic mode, however, as thousands of Longwood University students, and water users, began arriving-over 1,000 freshmen, alone, on Thursday-and will literally double Farmville's population by Sunday. According to Longwood University's interim president Marge Connelly, LU has-pre-drought watch and warning-already embraced water conservation.
“We're still encouraging people to use voluntary restrictions on their own,” Farmville Town Manager Gerald Spates told The Herald, “and we don't see any reason to put any mandatory restrictions in at all.”
In fact, Spates said drought warning severity doesn't exist in the Appomattox River as it flows through Farmville.
“I've been trying to find out why (DEQ issued the drought warning),” he said Tuesday afternoon. “…We don't meet the threshold for a drought warning.”
Speaking of the flow in the river, Spates said, “we have, right now, even with the water plant running (and taking water out of river) we're at eight million gallons running by the plant and 21 cubic feet per second. For us to go into drought warning it has to be below 6 million gallons a day and 16 cubic feet per second.”
Spates said he called DEQ's Roanoke office to discuss the situation and was told that office had “gotten the same call from other localities.”
” They're looking at the whole basin,” Spates said of DEQ's concern for downstream communities, “but we're treating it as a drought watch, which (DEQ) said was fine, and we're going to keep monitoring it but before we cranked the plant up we were at 24 cubic feet (of flow per second), and almost 11 million gallons a day” in the river at the water treatment plant.
On July 31, downstream from the water treatment plant, the flow of the river at the Route 45 bridge was the lowest ever recorded on that date-July 31-in 86 years.
If the worst happens and the Appomattox River is not able to meet the Town's water needs, Spates and Town Council are clearly confident that a newly-re-bored well will make up for any grave deficiency in the river.
“The well turned out perfect-five hundred gallons a minute,” said Spates, reporting the outcome of the recent re-boring of one of two wells dug to help during the severe drought of 2002. “Actually, we've cut it back to 451 gallons a minute. The pump and all that has been ordered so it turned out a lot better than we anticipated…”
Spates said the Town could begin using the well next week, if needed.
“It's there for back-up,” he explained, “and we're looking at doing some work on that other well, which probably increase the capacity of it quite a bit. It's worked out very well.”
Water use in the Town will increase greatly with the arrival of Longwood students but not as much, perhaps, as in the past.
Longwood University, even before DEQ's drought watch declaration two weeks ago, had “been trying very hard to conserve water,” Connelly told Town Council during its August 1 meeting.
“That's a great thing,” Connelly told council members, citing it as an example of how the university and town could improve communication. “It would be best if we talked to you about that, because that can have an impact. And we need to plan these kinds of things together.
“Now, it turns out the water conservation thing,” Connelly said, “is an entirely different issue now. Before, that was just kind of being green.”
Now it's about ensuring there's enough water for communities in the Appomattox River Basin.
DEQ said Tuesday in a press release sent from its Richmond office that notifications are being sent to all local governments, public water works, and private-sector water users in the affected area, and is requesting that they “prepare for the onset of a drought event by developing or reviewing existing water conservation and drought response plans.
“Through the drought warning declaration, Virginia is encouraging localities, public water suppliers and self-supplied water users in the Appomattox basin to voluntarily take these steps to help protect current water supplies:
“Minimize nonessential water use.
“All public waterworks and self-supplied water users who withdraw more than 10,000 gallons per day will initiate voluntary water conservation requirements contained in drought water conservation and contingency plans.
“Include water conservation information on local websites and distribute water conservation information as broadly as possible.
“Continue monitoring the condition of public waterworks and self-supplied water systems in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health.
“Impose mandatory water use restrictions when consistent with local water supply conditions,” DEQ states, explaining that the drought warning was issued “because drought indicators in the state's Drought Assessment and Response Plan have been met.
The DEQ press release further explains that, “According to the Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force, a group representing state and federal agencies, the primary factors contributing to the declaration of the drought warning advisory are:
“Precipitation deficits are 8 to 12 inches since October 1, 2011, throughout much of the river basin, and there are deficits of 6 to 8 inches in the rest of the basin.
“Stream flow is lower than 95 percent of recorded flows in the area, indicating a severe hydrologic drought – a period of below-average water content in streams, reservoirs, ground water aquifers, lakes and soils.
“Ground water levels are lower than 75 percent to 90 percent of previously recorded levels.
“Levels at Lake Chesdin have continued to fall since a drought watch advisory was issued July 26. Public water supply impacts have been reported by Crewe, Farmville and the Appomattox River Water Authority.
“A total of eight public water supplies have announced voluntary water use restrictions, and one additional waterworks has imposed mandatory restrictions,” DEQ states.
The next step for DEQ, which would bring mandatory water use restrictions, is a drought emergency, if sufficient rains don't fall.