Water Conservation FAQ's

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Water Frequently Asked Questions

water conservation
Attention: Drought warning restrictions are no longer in effect for City of Charlottesville. For more info on droughts see the Drought Page.

Dripping Spout

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the top 5 ways to save water in your home are:
Repairing leaks (visit our tips page and leak detection page)
Replacing toilets installed before 1992 (learn about the City's toilet rebate program)
Replacing old clothes washers with an Energy Star model (visit EPA's EnergyStar page)
Selecting drought resistant plants suitable for our climate
Irrigating wisely (see our tips and WaterWise pages for detailed ideas)

This pie chart shows the breakdown of average indoor use:  

Water Pie Chart

In addition, the average suburban home uses at least 30% of their total water outside. In the summer, that percentage often increases; however, a lot of the water ends up wasted. Inefficient irrigation practices, such as using a sprinkler during daylight hours, can cause half of that water to be lost to evaporation.  In other words, bad watering practices can cause 15% of your total water to be wasted without ever benefiting your landscape.   Visit our tipswater wise landscaping and irrigation pages for information on better irrigation and gardening practices. 

Visit our Residential Water Use Calculator to help pinpoint where your home's water is being used.  You can compare your results to the community average.

The average Charlottesville Water Residential Customer uses 472 cubic feet of water per month which is equal to 3,530 gallons.  If you would like to break it down further, each account serves roughly 3.2 people, which means 147.5 cubic feet (1,103 gallons) per person, per month.
This document from the EPA lists ways that commercial businesses can conserve water.  The EPA's WaterSense program has also developed a website dedicated to commercial water conservation.  This page focuses on water usage in specific industries common in our area, such as hospitals, hotels and restaurants.
Our municipal water is all surface water, collected in reservoirs. The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority operates five reservoirs that serve this area. For the City of Charlottesville, our supply is specifically from the Sugar Hollow, Ragged Mountain and the South Fork Rivanna Reservoirs. Many private homes in the surrounding counties have their own wells. It's important to remember that all of these water sources are linked. Groundwater not only feeds wells but is also the source for base flow in the streams that fill the reservoirs.  


Rivanna Reservoir

Our community faces the same pressures as many other places around the world: a growing population will increase demand while climate patterns will alter supply. Streams are fed by groundwater, precipitation and snow melt.  It takes a long time to naturally replenish groundwater and in many areas, drought or overuse have made that a vulnerable supply.  In addition, climate change can alter the amount of water stored in snow packs and the pattern of precipitation.  Taking this information together, the prudent course is to expect water shortages in the future and prepare for them. Should these sources run dry, potable water will have to be obtained from somewhere else. Where? The ocean is a pretty big water reserve. But desalinating salt water is currently quite expensive. Transporting that water inland will add to the cost. If you can picture a life where a gallon of water costs as much as a gallon of gas, you can see the importance of preserving the quality supplies available to us now.


The South Fork Rivanna Reservoir fills up quickly after a rainfall because it is fed by a large watershed. Our other two reservoirs have much smaller watersheds and so take longer to refill. All three are important to maintaining a healthy water supply. Our reservoirs also rely on inputs from groundwater, especially if there hasn't been any rain for awhile. If groundwater is low, then our reservoirs become very dependent on rain to keep them full. A brief period without rain would be all it takes to cause the levels to drop. The best way to protect our supply isn't to count on the vagaries of weather, but to use less water.


Construction is currently underway to expand the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. The process to increase water supplies is not quick; there are a number of environmental and engineering concerns to address. It's also important to remember that the more water we capture and prevent from traveling downstream, the more we will be affecting ecosystems and recreational areas that also need water. Changing wasteful habits is an important step in preserving these valuable assets.

To learn more about upcoming projects, you can view our Community Water Plan at the website of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) or the City's new webpage.


Sugar Hollow low

Sugar Hollow Dam

The water cycle does renew supplies. The problem is that it has a time frame independent of ours. When and where evaporated water will fall back to the ground as rain is out of our control.  It would be careless planning to assume there will be a plentiful supply in the future simply because it was there in the past. Therefore, cutting back on our habitual high water use is the wise course of action. Conservation helps preserve our current supplies while mitigating the impact we'll feel during future dry spells. If we're used to using only a little water, then it would take a more extreme drought for us to have our regular lives affected by it.

Visit the Managing Wholes website for an excellent PowerPoint or Flash presentation on how a barren and parched landscape can develop even in areas with rain.


10. What is the current rainfall deficit?

This page by the National Weather Service shows precipitation deficits over different time frames. 
For more on drought conditions, such as ground water levels and stream flows, visit this page at the Department of Environmental Quality.  Albemarle County is in the Middle James Drought Region. 
If you need help finding Albemarle County on a state map, this graphic will identify it for you.

Our water is safe to drink - it's tested regularly to insure compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Click here for our latest water quality report.


SH Reservoir

Sugar Hollow Reservoir

The Virginia Department of Health allows projects to recycle wastewater to drinking water supplies on a limited, case by case basis. In a more general way, since our treated wastewater ends up back in the water cycle, all the communities downstream of us are, in a way, reusing wastewater. One more reason to keep our waterways clean - you never know when you'll be the person standing downstream.


Graywater is non-sewage wastewater usually defined as water from clothes washers, showers and bathroom sinks.  Some communities reuse graywater for various purposes, often landscape watering. The City of Charlottesville does not currently have regulations in place regarding the use of graywater. If you'd like to explore graywater options for your home or business, contact the City's Neighborhood Development Services (970-3182).  However, all the plumbing in your home or business must meet building, health and backflow specifications.

If you're interested in harvesting rainwater for use in your home or business, please review the guidelines issued by the Virginia Department of Health in 2011. Neighborhood Development Services will be using this document to format specific guidelines for City properties.  Please contact them as you begin planning your project.


Sugar Hollow high

Sugar Hollow Dam


14.  What is the Community Water Supply Plan?

It is a plan adopted in 2006 by The City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County Service Authority and Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) to address the community's water needs for the next 50 years.  Information on, and updates to, the Plan can be found on this City webpage or at the RWSA website.

In addition, the non-profit Charlottesville Tomorrow published a series of articles explaining the plan during summer 2009.  The graphics available are very helpful in visualizing both the current and planned supply.

15.  Where can I get a rain barrel?

By using captured rainwater to water plants, wash your car, or other projects, you'll help protect our reservoir supplies.  Rain barrels also improve local stream quality, which you can learn more about here.  Locally, rain barrels can be purchased from the stores listed on this page.  The Rivanna Conservation Society also makes barrels available on their website.  Visit the TJSWCD website to learn about the barrel making workshops they schedule every year.  In addition, any workshops planned by the City will be listed on the Water Conservation home page.

You may also want to visit our WaterWise Landscaping page to learn how to create your own rain barrel.

16.  Why do water rates go up when we conserve?

It is a paradox faced by many utilities around the country.  Municipal water and wastewater utilities are zero profit - over time expenses must equal income.  When the community uses less water, the utility is selling less "product"; however, the costs of maintaining the water distribution system must still be covered. 

The Albemarle County Service Authority has recently switched to an inclining block rate structure.  This type of rate is gaining credibility as good for conservation.  The goal is to have essential water, that which is needed for health and sanitation, priced very low, in the first block.  As a customer's use increases, presumably due to wasteful habits, the rate will significantly increase in successive blocks.  The expected benefits to such a structure are multiple: all users would have access to essential water at a very affordable price; inefficient customers would have a financial incentive to conserve more; the utility's budget shortfall caused by conservation would be covered by the high rates paid by a few excessive users.  The City is studying how this structure will effect our customers. 

The City is a business and a user of water.  This PDF document lists some of the changes and procedures we implement in order to be a wise water customer. 
Visit the Albemarle County Service Authority's Website for Water Restriction FAQ's 


Got another question? Contact the City's Water Conservation Manager at
(434) 970-3800
Our thanks to the RWSA for assistance in answering these questions.