Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The U.S. Southeast has been added to the list of regions that faces long term water shortages. After the drought of 2002 the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, passed a long term water management plan, which implemented some water saving measures and called for a reassessment in the future. The drought has since lifted and the reassessment has disappeared from view.

Unfortunately, the area's long term problems stem not from drought but from rapid population growth. Albemarle County’s population is expected to leap from 88,000 in 2003 to more than 167,000 by mid century. The regional water service authority estimates that nearly 102,000 county residents will be served by 2050. At this rate, water usage would outpace supply after 2008, and by 2055 the area could see a deficit of 9.9 million gallons per day.

The myopic reaction of local officials to the projections is predictable.

Local water officials say there is nothing they can do but try to keep up. J.W. “Bill” Brent, executive director of the Albemarle County Service Authority and a Rivanna board member, said the authority is servant to whatever growth projections the county and city put together. “We’re here to supply growth,” Brent said. “Whatever the city and the county say that is.”

Similarly, Thomas L. Frederick Jr., executive director of the Rivanna authority, stressed that the RWSA’s only directive is to meet demand. “For us to do anything other than to meet the 9.9 million gallons per day … we wouldn’t be doing what has been mandated of us,” Frederick said.

But how that will be accomplished is the question. The same question posed during the drought of 2002, and one first raised almost three decades ago.

This complete unwillingness to face up to the question of limits promises nothing but unnecessarily severe crises in the future.


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