All the reservoirs in Wise County wanted for Christmas this recent holiday season was a little lousy weather, and Nature Claus delivered. A lot would have been much better, but a little is much better than nothing for municipal water suppliers.
A whole lot more precipitation this winter will be needed to rebound from last year’s severe drought conditions across the region, as two Wise County towns continue to enforce water conservation measures.
Big Stone Gap Water Plant Superintendent Gary Hampton reported Friday the town’s Big Cherry Reservoir rose to 141 million gallons, a 47-day supply, a bounce from the 40-day supply and 113 million gallons prior to the last rain event over the holidays.
The Big Cherry’s top capacity is 600 million gallons behind the new $8 million dam that was dedicated in 2005. The old dam could contain 400 million gallons, so the increase has bought the town — for the time being — a reprieve from the 2005 water crisis. Without the additional 200 million gallons this time around, the reservoir would have already been depleted several weeks and nigh on 100 million gallons ago.
Daily outflow for Big Stone Gap is 2.2 million gallons, but actual consumption accountability (measured by residential and business water meters) is around 1 million gallons a day below the average daily treated production rate. The town is poised to begin a major overhaul of its seriously leaky pipeline delivery system this year.
The water supply anxiety quotient in the town of Appalachia has been eased in recent weeks by the town’s decision to tap the Powell River to boost water levels in its reservoir.
Appalachia Water Plant Superintendent Jackie Pitts on Friday reported a 2-foot gain in the reservoir level since Dec. 5, when the town started pumping water from the river to its mountaintop impoundment.
Pitts said the 100-million-gallon capacity reservoir contained about 29.5 million gallons on Friday. The town has been pumping about 500,000 gallons a day from the river and gains roughly 100,000-plus gallons daily over the daily consumption rate of around 375,000 treated gallons.
Appalachia’s reservoir was down 17 feet 6 inches below the spillway on Dec. 5 and is now 15 feet 5 inches below the spillway, he said.
“So far everything’s doing pretty good. We had (one of three pumps) freeze up on us last night, but we took care of that this morning, and everything’s back up to running fine now,” Pitts said. “Other than that, everything’s been working out real well so far.”
Water restriction and conservation measures remain in effect for both towns. In Appalachia, residential customers who exceed 4,000 gallons of water per month are charged an additional $5 for every 1,000 gallons above the 4,000-gallon limit. Businesses are required to cut back to 80 percent of their average monthly consumption based on the average use of their October and November water bills.
In Big Stone Gap, all customers must cut back to 80 percent of their typical monthly consumption. More dire measures could be implemented if the Big Cherry Reservoir dwindles to a 30-day supply.
In Norton, Assistant City Manager Fred Ramey said Friday “we’re holding our own” thanks to the last rain event over the holidays. On Monday, levels in the city’s two mountainside reservoirs below High Knob contained 53.8 million gallons, a boost from the 43 million gallons prior to the last rains.
Daily consumption in Norton is 1 million gallons. The city had been buying 500,000 gallons a day from the Wise County Public Service Authority to take pressure off tapping the reservoirs, “but we started backing off that number” after the most recent rains boosted levels in the reservoirs, Ramey said. Total capacity for the city’s two reservoirs is 124 million gallons.