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Question Your World: How Is Henrico Planning Its Water Future?

Posted: October 2, 2021

You may have noticed some exceptionally extreme weather events in our region lately. Extreme weather doesn’t just make news, it’s also informing our future! That brings us to today's question: how is Henrico planning its water future?

Human-caused climate change has already made whacky weather in the Southeast even weirder through intensifying our extremes. Here in Central Virginia we’ve certainly seen long periods of drought happen in the recent past punctuated by bouts of intense rainfall. 

Our region’s “water budget” is not always easy to predict, and it’ll get worse as human-caused climate change favors shorter and more intense rain events with longer dry periods in between. In other words, too much too quickly followed by too little for too long!

Image credit: Getty Images

This is why Henrico County has made a big infrastructural investment to help stabilize the area’s water budget by building a reservoir. Here’s the basic idea: as heavy rains occur and the James River rises above normal levels, surplus water will be diverted into a large reservoir. Then, during droughts when river levels are lower, the reservoir will release water back into the river to get it back to a normal level. 

Why do this? Having a stable river level is vital not just for our recreational use on hot summer days, but also for year-round agricultural and other needs. This may ease water use restrictions placed on activities like irrigation and manufacturing. The reservoir then refills during the next heavy rain event.

As our region’s climate continues to change, scientists and engineers are working closer together to find other dynamic solutions to these threats and create a more efficient future. This massive construction project is underway and is expected to be completed by late 2022.

Upon completion, Henrico's reservoir will become another infrastructural investment the region has made in resilience to climate change. It's also a great reminder that water management sometimes requires knowing some dam science!