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December 16, 2008

Council amends water supply memorandum; Mayor Norris seeks study of larger pipeline

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When the “four boards” with jurisdiction over the community’s water and sewer infrastructure met on November 25, 2008 to discuss the implementation of the community water supply plan, they reached consensus on a number of issues. Their decisions were codified in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which came before Charlottesville City Council at their meeting on December 15, 2008.  

DownloadDownload the Draft Memorandum of Understanding

The memorandum addresses the following key points:

  • The RWSA will hire a panel of experts to review the design of the new dam at Ragged Mountain to recommend ways to bring the project’s cost estimate in line with the community’s expectations. The panel will be convened under a scope of work approved by the RWSA Board on October 27, 2008.
  • The City Public Works Department and the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) will assess conservation measures and incentives  to “develop alternatives for more aggressive water conservation and water use efficiency measures.”
  • If the South Fork Reservoir Stewardship Task Force recommends a dredging feasibility study, one will be conducted. Either the four boards or their chairs will have the chance to approve or amend and approve the recommendations regarding the scope of work.
  • The RWSA will spend no more than $25,000 to hire an engineer to review the “reasonableness of the methodology and opinion of cost used by Gannett Fleming in 2005 in its conceptual design of the pipeline from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir”
  • There will be no panel of experts to review the entire adopted community water supply plan.

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Council Gannett Fleming’s cost estimate for the Ragged Mountain Dam increased earlier this year from $37 million to nearly $100 million after additional evidence collected at the site turned up fractured rock. That prompted Council to vote on November 3, 2008 to seek further study of the entire plan to see what cost savings could be obtained, including a request to study the feasibility of the pipeline. The Board of Supervisors and the ACSA requested a sit-down with Council, resulting in the four-way meeting with the RWSA Board.

 “It was agreed at that meeting that a summary of the discussions and agreed-upon next steps be written up in a document for review and approval by the four boards,” City Manager Gary O’Connell said when introducing the item to Council. O’Connell said that while the agreement as written does not require the study of other pipeline alternatives, RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick has said his staff can provide a summary that lists the pros and cons of the adopted South Fork to Ragged Mountain concept, a replacement of the Sugar Hollow Pipeline and a pipeline to the James River.

Mayor Dave Norris began Council’s discussion by asking to simplify the process in order to avoid “wordsmithing an MOU which would then need to go back to the County and go back to the other boards.” Instead, Norris wanted Council to adopt a resolution of intent to see the various studies, but with an additional requirement that Council will not permit construction of the dam until all four requested studies are complete. Norris also sought to amend several of the provisions in the MOU.

Councilor David Brown wanted to know more about what would happen if Council opted for a resolution over the MOU. Several members of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan had expressed concern that the MOU was too powerful a legal document and that the City would give up its rights by signing it.

City Attorney Craig Brown said that whether Council opted for a resolution or simply signed the MOU, it was most important to send a consistent message to the other parties.

“This is a guide that presumably all four boards can agree to that defines the scope of work primarily for [the RWSA],” Attorney Brown said. “I don’t think it is too powerful a document for this purpose.” Norris said it might be harder to revisit an MOU with four different bodies making amendments. 

Councilor Julian Taliaferro said that there were several important safeguards that puts the future of the plan in Council’s hands. First, the City owns the property and has to grant various construction easements. Second, Council will have to appropriate money. Attorney Brown said there were many other details that would have to be worked out as well. Council eventually opted to stick with the MOU.

Norris suggested several changes anyway. He wanted to add language to the conservation study item to include language to insist that any improvements be consistent with best management practices in other communities. He also wanted to streamline the section that dealt with how the RWSA will proceed with the recommendations of the South Fork Reservoir Stewardship Task Force. Under the amendment, the task force’s recommendation will not have to come back before City Council or the Board of Supervisors.

Norris’ primary amendment concerned the proposal for a new pipeline. The MOU as presented to Council stated that the pipeline study would not require review of other pipeline alternatives.  Norris suggested adding language to insist in writing that Frederick’s summary of three alternatives would be included. 

“This is just reaffirming that we wish to see [RWSA] do that,” Norris said. His next amendment to this section added language that would require “an assessment of the impact of the size of [the South Fork] pipeline on the needed storage capacity of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir using existing modeling techniques.”

Councilor Brown asked for a clarification. Norris said that there are some in the community who feel that if the pipeline is wider, the Ragged Mountain Dam would not need to be as large because the South Fork pipeline could fill in the Ragged Mountain Reservoir faster after the community emerges from a prolonged drought.

“We have some good modeling programs that we’ve already paid for, and as we’re crunching numbers that’s one number I’d like to see us nail down,” Norris said.

City Manager O’Connell warned Norris that unless the review is based on modeling data compiled by Gannett Fleming, the requested review could not be obtained for less than $25,000. He said many opponents of the plan are already concerned about the credibility of Gannett Fleming.  Council agreed to Norris’ additions and approved the MOU unanimously.

Councilor Holly Edwards asked what would happen if the other Boards also decide to amend the MOU. Norris said that if they made “substantive changes” he would want the document to come back before Council. The ACSA will next take up the matter at its meeting on Thursday, December 18, 2008. The Board of Supervisors will consider the MOU in early January.

Sean Tubbs


  • 1:00 - Gary O'Connell provides the context for the memorandum of understanding
  • 7:30 - Norris proposes reframing the discussion
  • 9:30 - Brown seeks conversation about the merits of Norris' proposal 
  • 11:00 - City Attorney Craig Brown
  • 13:30 - Taliaferro points out several safeguards which gives Council control over Ragged Mountain construction
  • 15:00 - Brown asks about what happens with items 5 through 9 on the MOU
  • 17:40 - Norris begins listing the things he would like to change in the MOU
  • 23:00 - Brown says he doesn't mind the amendments, but wanted to leave them in a MOU rather than a resolution
  • 26:30 - Edwards asks if Council will see another version of this after other boards make their amendments
  • 28:15 - Taliaferro asks why Norris wants to consider a larger diameter


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