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April 29, 2008

Questions asked about Community Water Supply Plan

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There were no major items on the agenda during the April meeting of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority. But questions asked by members of the public prompted an update on the status of the Community Water Supply Plan from Executive Director Tom Frederick.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20080428-RWSA.mp3


The RWSA Board takes comments from the public each month during its regular business meeting. This month, two people used the time to ask questions. Albemarle County resident Lois Rochester asked for an update on the three phasing options for the water supply plan put forward by the RWSA in September 2007. She wanted to know if the Board had made a final decision.

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Hawes Spencer
Hawes Spencer, editor and publisher of The Hook, used his time to ask questions about the RWSA’s contract with engineering firm Gannett  Fleming to design the Community Water Supply Plan.  After asking a detailed question, Gaffney told Spencer that the public comment portion of the agenda was meant for Board members to listen to comments, and not to respond to direct questioning, a practice followed by almost every local public body. Spencer asked his question a second time, and Gaffney told him he did not have an answer for him.  Spencer then asked a more pointed question:

“When you have competitive bids on your water supply plan, including at least a couple of firms that offered to do it for under $800,000, how did this Board through a series of amendments wind up paying well over $2.5 million for a firm that threw out many of the contentions from the earlier consultants, including O’Brien and Gear. How could one firm so take over water policy in this region that it could get that much money and really destroy the old water plan?”

The Board did not answer the question, but Charlottesville City Manager Gary O’Connell asked Frederick to provide an update on the Community Water Supply plan.

Frederick said the Department of Environmental Quality gave state approval on February 11, 2008, and that the RWSA is waiting for the US Army Corps of Engineers to approve its draft permit to build the new dam at Ragged Mountain. In the meantime, crews have been performing geotechnical work to plan the exact location for the new dam.

“You have to have a lot of knowledge of what the rock looks like underneath the soil,” Frederick said. The RWSA has until November to submit a detailed study and plan to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, whose Dam Safety Division is allowing the existing dams to continue operating under a conditional permit that anticipates their forthcoming replacement. Frederick predicted the RWSA would make that deadline, but it would be tight.  

The Hook’s Hawes Spencer has advocated a specific position that dredging alone can satisfy the community’s 50-year water supply needs and that maintaining natural stream flows in the Rivanna and Moormans rivers have been unnecessarily mandated by the RWSA’s permit application.  Spencer has used a series of articles over the past two months, along with appearances on WINA AM 1070, to repeatedly challenge the community water supply plan, to explore second opinions on dredging alternatives, and to disseminate the arguments of a group of activists opposed to the construction of a new 112’ dam at Ragged Mountain.

20080428-frederick  
Tom Frederick
The RWSA’s Tom Frederick has responded that dredging alone, regardless of the cost, will not restore enough capacity at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to meet the community’s long term needs.  Further, Frederick argues that maintaining local stream flows are another priority of the community which is accomplished in the RWSA plan which seeks to balance human and environmental needs.  Presenting a united front in face of The Hook’s ongoing coverage, the RWSA, Albemarle County Service Authority, Albemarle County, and City of Charlottesville all signed a joint letter published in late March 2008 to update citizens on the status of the water supply plan.

Interviewed by Charlottesville Tomorrow, Frederick said, “If you ignore the cost of dredging, and it somehow gets done to restore the original water volume at South Fork, the water supply would have a safe yield of 14.3 Million Gallons per Day (MGD).  If you then were to shut off all stream flow releases from all the dams, something we strongly recommend against and we further believe is highly unlikely to be approved by regulatory agencies, you could get in theory up to 17.5 MGD available for the urban water supply.  That is still not enough.  We identified 18.7 MGD as what this community will need in our 50-year plan.”

Thus, according to Frederick, a water supply plan that relies on dredging alone without creating greater storage capacity would not meet the forecasted future water demand of this community during a severe drought.  It would appear to Charlottesville Tomorrow that Spencer’s plan, in addition to still requiring dam repairs at Ragged Mountain and construction of a new pipeline from Sugar Hollow to Ragged Mountain, would also “turn off” the Rivanna River in Charlottesville during severe droughts since all available supply would need to be held back to satisfy the urban water system needs of the future.

In response to Rochester’s question about the phasing options, Frederick said the RWSA’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) assumes the new dam will be built to its full height now, with the pipeline to be constructed outside of the five year horizon of the CIP.  This scenario is known as Option 3. Option 1 would build the full height of the dam as well as the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir Pipeline as soon as possible. Option 2 would build the full pipeline as soon as possible, but would phase construction of the dam into two steps.

“We can change those plans if we get direction to go with a different option,” Frederick said. Under Option 3, the draft CIP also anticipates the purchase of right of way for the pipeline.

The City Council will hold a work session on the Community Water Supply issue on May 6.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST
  • 01:00 – Call to order by Mike Gaffney, Chair of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority Board of  Directors
  • 01:40 – Albemarle County resident Lois Rochester asks for an update on the three phasing options put forward by the RWSA in September 2007
  • 03:42 – Hook publisher Hawes Spencer asks two questions
  • 7:03 – Consent agenda, but O’Connell asks for discussion on on-going projects to address the water supply issue
  • 13:10 – Gary Fern of the Albemarle County Service Authority asks question about cost of painting steel tanks, followed by answers from RWSA Chief Engineer Jennifer Whitaker
Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler

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