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October 28, 2008

Reservoir task force receives public input

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The South Fork Reservoir Stewardship Task Force convened to take input from the public regarding the future of the maintenance and enhancement of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. A public hearing was the only item on their agenda at their meeting on October 27, 2008, though members also discussed the future of the task force’s charge for an hour before adjourning.

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Before the public hearing opened, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris appeared before the task force to read a joint statement from himself and Ken Boyd, Chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. The two-page letter sought to explain the purposes of the task force and recommended that the task force “focus its efforts on building a well-rounded case as to how the Reservoir benefits our community.” Norris referred back to the Board and Council resolutions which in June 2008 reaffirmed the water supply plan, and ultimately led to the creation of the Task Force:

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that in addition to the specific elements of the local Water Supply Plan endorsed and approved by this Resolution, the City Council hereby requests the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority to undertake a study of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and the viability and merits of maintenance dredging, siltation prevention and any other appropriate initiatives that could maintain and enhance the aquatic health and water quality of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, as a valuable water resource for the long term future benefit of the community. The Council hereby requests that Albemarle County, the Albemarle County Service Authority, the Rivanna River Basin Commission and other affected regional partners formally express their support of this study”


“As is clear from the text I just read, measures to sustain the long-term health of the South Fork Reservoir, potentially to include dredging, were not envisioned as replacing, but rather supplementing the other components of the water supply plan approved by the City and County,” Mayor Norris said. 

The statement also identified areas which Norris and Boyd felt were not related to the purpose of the task force:

  • “[T]his Task Force was not charged with responsibility for reassessing the fundamentals of the water supply plan itself.”
  • The “broader issue of how to proceed with the water supply plan itself” was described in the statement as being “outside the scope of the committee’s charge.”
  • If the task force recommends dredging, the decisions that result from assessing the impact of any resulting gains in water supply capacity lie “outside the purview of this Task Force.”

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Dave Norris

The statement also commends the RWSA for planning to convene a panel of experts to assess the cost estimates of the new dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir, and says the RWSA should take another look at the “various components” of the water supply plan.

“We believe the RWSA should take advantage of this pause in the implementation process to more closely analyze the key components of the adopted and alternative plans to ensure that the path we choose for meeting our community water supply goals is the most economically and environmentally responsible one,” Norris said.

PUBLIC HEARING AND OTHER AVENUES FOR PUBLIC INPUT

The Task Force Chair, Sally Thomas, urged the public to also fill out the task force’s online questionnaire. So far, over 250 people have given their views on the future of the reservoir. 

Nineteen people spoke during the public hearing, with the vast majority calling into question the logistics as well as the costs of the adopted water supply plan. One speaker, Elizabeth King, delivered a sales pitch for the dredging services of one particular firm.

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Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch

Charlottesville resident John Wheeler said dredging was the fastest way to prepare for the next drought, which he said might be imminent.  John Cruickshank of the Sierra Club said 362 area residents have signed a petition calling for the task force to recommend studying the costs of dredging to restore the reservoir’s original water storage capacity. Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch said the RWSA “got greedy” and designed a water plan that is more than what the community needs, and more than the RWSA can successfully manage. Albemarle County resident Sam Frielich called for a bathymetric study to be conducted to assist with dredging. City Resident and former Mayor Francis Fife called for that study to be conducted immediately. Ivy resident Keith Rosenfeld also called for dredging to restore the original capacity, as well as the installation of upstream sediment basins to slow down siltation in the reservoir.

The only person to question dredging to restore water capacity was City resident Jeff Werner, who works for the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC). He told the task force that dredging all the current and future sediment in order to maintain capacity would likely require some around-the-clock work. Speaking as a City resident and not on behalf of the PEC, Werner also asked for improved land use strategies to minimize sedimentation at its source.

TASK FORCE DISCUSSES DREDGING

After the public hearing, Chair Sally Thomas asked members what additional information they thought they would need over the task force’s remaining three meetings.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) asked what non-dredging methods could be undertaken to maintain the health of the reservoir. He also asked if the infestation of hydrilla plants was considered to be a good thing or a bad thing for the reservoir. Thomas responded that she had spoken with John Kaufman of the Virginia Department of Environmentally Quality (DEQ), and he told her that unless the hydrilla covered more than 30 percent of the reservoir, it would not affect water quality. Kaufman may be asked to speak at a future meeting of the task force.

Ridge Schuyler suggested the task force should hear a presentation on stopping sedimentation from Sam Austin of the U.S. Geological Survey. Austin is serving as a technical expert on the Rivanna River Basin Commission’s work to find solutions to slowing the siltation rate.

Commenting on Norris and Boyd’s statement, Dede Smith repeated her claim that it was necessary for dredging to be seen in a holistic fashion. She said she was frustrated to hear more conversation about hydrilla, when the real issue was how to proceed with dredging. Smith called for the task force to recommend hiring an expert to study dredging, and said the RWSA already has money in its budget to conduct the study.

Tom Jones, who represents property owners around the reservoir, said recommending a bathymetric study would give all potential bidders on dredging a “good scientific basis for their recommendations.” He wanted to know if the task force would have a chance to review the results of the study.

Liz Palmer, representing the Albemarle County Service Authority, said she wanted to know more information about tightening land use controls to stop sediment from entering the reservoir, and also wanted more information on how much of the reservoir would need to be dredged.

Ridge Schulyer of the Nature Conservancy said it has been confirmed that the task force is trying to answer one question – why dredge?

“If you want to maintain it in order to maintain its current storage capacity, you would do one thing. If you wanted it to maintain it in order to preserve fish habit, you might do another thing,” Schuyler asked.  “You wouldn’t just say ‘do a bathymetric study because bathymetric studies can vary quite widely depending on their specifics.”

Supervisor Dennis Rooker said he didn’t disagree with Schuyler, but said that there might be companies that could do the job without one. RWSA Chair Mike Gaffney said that before any dredger could get on the reservoir, permits would have to be obtained from the DEQ and the Army Corps of Engineers. Rooker suggested a dredging company might make an offer that would include paying to get the necessary permits.  Gaffney suggested a bidding process for dredging would return many estimates that will be incomplete until all of the engineering studies are performed.

Thomas asked if the task force should invite representatives of dredging firms to the next meeting to further explain how dredging would work. Rooker said he thought that would be helpful.  Gaffney suggested asking Gahagan and Bryant to provide samples of RFPs that it has submitted for reservoirs similar to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Thomas said she would put together an agenda for the next meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, November 13, 2008. It will begin at 6:00 PM in the City Hall Basement Conference Room.

Sean Tubbs

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