Where does Richmond's water come from when James is low?

Published: Sep. 28, 2011 at 3:33 PM EDT
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NOTE: This story was prepared back in August as our area approached water restriction conditions. Andrew's story never aired as we had rain from Hurricane Irene and then several weeks of rain.

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - For a large chunk of the metro area, your water comes from the City of Richmond but when the river levels drop too low, they have to go to Plan B.

When the river is roaring, there's no problem.  But now, it's just too low.   The water from the James River can't make it uphill into the treatment facility on the north bank of the river, just west of the Powhite Parkway. But public utilities crews have another option.  They can use a historic canal at a higher elevation to get the job done.

The remote area near Bosher's Dam is the first piece of the puzzle.

"That water coming around the bend is actually coming off the river, above Bosher's Dam, and the water over here is Tuckahoe Creek.  If you are in the West End, your property drains into Tuckahoe Creek, likely, that water, combined with the water from the James River eventually heads to the water treatment plant," said Robert Steidel, director of the Department of Public Utilities.

It's a long, slow, 5-mile trip that takes a day.  That's done on purpose.  By keeping the water at a higher elevation, it can flow into the plant even though the river can't.

"The water you are looking at here is river water, as that level continues to drop, you have to turn to a secondary source of water.  That's the water we showed you way out west of town.  It's the Kanawha Canal, combined with the Tuckahoe Creek water.  And that water is the secondary source.  When there's not enough river water, they open the gate, and this water gets diverted into the treatment plant," Steidel said.

Would you also believe some of that water has made a journey across the state to get here? It comes from Lake Moomaw in the mountains, more than 120 miles away.

"Right now, about a fifth of the water that's coming to Richmond is coming out of storage in the Blue Ridge mountains in Bath County," he said.

But when restrictions are put in place, Steidel said some people water their landscapes more, burning through a precious resource that isn't unlimited.

"Just don't water more, because we are in voluntary conservation, please know that we asking you to conserve.  Use it for the best possible purpose you can," he said.

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