2014-08-27 / Front Page

Sprinkler spike threatens shift in water plan

Michael Buettner

The county’s available supply of drinking water is set to nearly double in the near future, and that additional supply may be needed sooner than expected if residents don’t cut back on watering their lawns.

The current regional water plan anticipates that demand won’t begin to outstrip the existing supply until sometime after 2050, based on long-term population and water usage growth. But county officials say the proliferation of residential irrigation systems is threatening to throw off those projections – and move up the need for additional water supply – by more than a decade.

Currently, the Appomattox River is the source of water for about half of the 103,000 Chesterfield County residents who get their water from the county Utilities Department. According to Utilities Director Roy Covington, efforts to increase the available supply from that source are close to paying off.

Covington recently told the Planning Commission that officials from the Appomattox River Water Authority will be meeting this week with the state Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the environmental and other costs of raising the height of the George F. Brasfield Dam.

The dam, built in 1966, holds back the Appomattox a couple of miles upstream from the village of Matoaca to create Lake Chesdin, a 3,100-acre reservoir that serves as the main water source for Chesterfield as well as the cities of Colonial Heights and Petersburg and portions of Dinwiddie and Prince George counties.

The plan is to build a system of mechanical gates across the top of the dam that would raise its height by 18 inches, which would increase the lake’s current holding capacity of 9.3 billion gallons by about 1.9 billion gallons.

Covington said the water authority’s board should receive full cost figures for the project at its Sept. 25 meeting.

Meanwhile, a separate plan that would increase the water authority’s supply by an even larger amount is also near fruition.

Officials of the water authority have been working for a number of years on creating an additional reservoir not located along the main channel of the Appomattox but on one of its tributaries. Such a “side-stream” reservoir would hold water that could be released into the Appomattox to help refill Lake Chesdin at times when water demand exceeds the natural flow into the lake. Covington said a “water supply has been identified” and officials are negotiating to acquire the needed land. “Announcing this new reservoir is imminent,” he said, adding that an announcement should come within the next 12 months.

The side-stream reservoir would create additional water-storage capacity of about 7 billion gallons, Covington said. Combined with the additional capacity created by raising the dam, the county is poised to add a total of 8.9 billion gallons of water storage, almost as much as the 9.3 billion gallons the water authority currently has available.

To help pay for the increase in water usage, the county may pursue “demand management” strategies, Covington said, aimed at encouraging residents to use less water, including possible “tiers” in the rate structure that would charge people who use more water at a higher rate.

Covington noted that his department prepared a detailed proposal for a tiered rate structure a couple of years ago and presented it to the county administrator and members of the Board of Supervisors. With “no real clear direction” from officials, the idea “has not gone forward,” he said.

More than a decade ago, the county began offering residents “residential companion meters,” which measure water used for yard irrigation separately from water for household consumption. Residents are charged for wastewater service based on their household water use, but water used for lawn irrigation isn’t counted toward wastewater charges because it doesn’t enter the wastewater system.

The companion meters cost $460 to install, and they’re proving popular. According to Utilities Department figures, 5,861 companion meters were installed from 2003 through 2013, and as of June this year, about 10,000 were in place.

Part of the reason for the growth is that new subdivisions are being built “with each house utilizing an exclusion meter for irrigation uses,” according to the county’s most recent water plan. “Therefore, as certain geographical areas increase in population, the water consumption per capita is increasing in excess of normal domestic water demands, caused by increased irrigation demands.”

In short, irrigation is boosting water demand faster than population growth, raising the prospect that demand will exceed supply earlier than expected: “If the irrigation demand is not minimized or eliminated, then additional treatment capacity [will be] needed shortly after … 2035,” or roughly 15 years sooner than previously expected, according to the water plan.

The county’s current water plan recommends that “Aggressive policies and public education campaigns should be implemented to combat the excessive irrigation demands. If the irrigation demand is reduced, then the expansion in treatment capacity can be delayed.”

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