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February 24, 2009

RWSA agrees to convene dam panel, commission pipeline study

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In late November 2008, the four Boards with jurisdiction over the community water supply met to discuss the future of the 50-year water supply plan. Issues on the table included the rising cost of the Ragged Mountain Dam, concerns by City Councilors about the feasibility of other elements of the plan, and how to proceed with a feasibility study. Three months later, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) has finally taken action on the first two issues.

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First, at their meeting on February 23, 2009, the RWSA Board of Directors agreed to spend up to $264,000 to convene a three-member panel of internationally-recognized experts on dam construction to study the geotechnical issues that led dam design firm Gannett Fleming to increase the estimate for a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. Data collected from drillings last summer revealed that the underlying bedrock on which the new dam was to be built was fractured. The RWSA retained the services of a second firm, Schnabel Engineering, to get a second opinion.

The RWSA received proposals from 15 dam design and construction experts interested in joining the panel. Three have been selected to serve on what is now being called the Independent Technical Review Team (ITRT), which will be charged with:

  • Review the geotechnical data that uncovered the fractured bedrock and make recommendations on how to proceed.
  • Review Gannett Fleming’s preliminary design recommendations for the proposed dam and I-64 embankment, as well as Schnabel engineer’s work. The ITRT will specifically discuss Gannett Fleming’s belief that the dam’s foundation can be laid deeper than in the original designs.
  • Provide recommendations to the RWSA concerning the most cost-effective way to build a “structurally stable dam with settlement and seepage within acceptable limits, which will comply with all regulatory requirements and which will provide the requisite reservoir storage volume.”
  • Determine whether or not additional geotechnical data will be needed to assist with the above charges

The ITRT will first meet in mid-March for a three-day workshop in Charlottesville. The last item listed above will determine the panel’s timeline. If the panel calls for more borings to be drilled for core samples, Frederick said the panel’s work may not be completed until early to mid-summer. He said it is likely the additional drilling will need to be done.

The panel will consist of Paul Rizzo of Rizzo Associates, Donald Bruce of Geosystems, and Daniel Johnson of GEI Consultants, Inc. All have participated on similar panels in the past, according to Frederick.

“It’s going to be a creative process of looking at options and alternatives,” Frederick said. “We want to keep the proposed dam structurally sound, have it meet all the safety criteria, but we want to take a really hard look at the cost.”

The budget for the Independent Technical Review Team (Source: RWSA)

The $264,000 budget includes payment to the three experts for attendance at three workshops, as well as fees for representatives of Gannett Fleming and Schnabel Engineering to attend at least one workshop to answer questions about their work. One of the three experts will receive an additional amount up to $25,000 to serve as the panel’s chair. Frederick said that person will be charged with writing up the panel’s report. There’s also a $30,000 contingency which Frederick said would be used to amend any of the contracts in order to deal with “unforeseen needs that may come up.”  However, Frederick said the budget for the panel does not include any additional funding for any borings the panel may recommend.

Albemarle County Executive Bob Tucker asked if the Department of Conservation’s Dam Safety Division was aware of the panel’s creation. Frederick responded that they have been notified, but have made no comment.  He said the agency has not extended their deadline to repair or replace the existing Ragged Mountain Dams by June of 2011.

The second action taken by the RWSA Board on the community water supply plan was to authorize Frederick to spend up to $25,000 to conduct a pipeline study as discussed by the four Boards. The scope of the work will be guided according to the following paragraph:

“RWSA will retain a firm 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. This review will be within the context of the objectives established in 2005, to include the operating rules for the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and the desire to control sediment transfer between the reservoirs. The cost of this review will not exceed $25,000. RWSA will also retain a firm to assess the impact of the size of the pipeline on necessary storage capacity of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, using existing modeling techniques. Rivanna will also provide a summary list of the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed South Fork Rivanna Reservoir Pipeline, the Sugar Hollow Reservoir pipeline, and a pipeline from the James River, based on information currently available.”

The item was delayed due to ongoing differences of opinion between the City Council and the Albemarle County Service Authority. After the ACSA decided not to continue pursuing the negotiations through the use of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Frederick felt it was appropriate to ask the RWSA Board for direction.

During the public comment period, Betty Mooney of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan called for both the dam and the pipeline to be treated as one project. She also questioned whether $25,000 was enough to develop an estimate of how much the pipeline would cost.

“Neither the dam nor the pipeline work unless they are both constructed to meet the 50-year water supply goals,” Mooney said. “To build the dam without knowing accurately the costs associated with the pipeline would be like building the shell of a house with no plumbing pipes to supply the occupants with water.”

The third issue remaining to be decided about the community water supply plan involves how to proceed with the question of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Frederick recommended that the RWSA Board take action after the next meeting of the four Boards on March 3, 2009.


  • 01:00 - RWSA Chair Michael Gaffney opens the meeting
  • 01:30 - Report from RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick
  • 03:00 - Frederick briefs RWSA Board on possibility of stimulus money for RWSA capital projects
  • 04:00 - Public comment from Dede Smith of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan regarding her group's "minority report"
  • 05:45 - Public comment from Betty Mooney of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan on the ITRT and the pipeline study
  • 10:30 - Public comment from Sally Thomas, Chair of the South Fork Rivanna Stewardship Task Force
  • 12:00 - Frederick introduces the RWSA budget for FY2009-2010
  • 19:00 - Frederick opens up discussion on the ITRT
  • 23:40 - RWSA's Chuck Kent describes the panelists
  • 40:00 - Frederick introduces item on requesting direction on pipeline review
  • 45:30 - RWSA Counsel Kurt Krueger reads statement that opens executive session for the RWSA Board
  • 45:50 - RWSA Counsel Kurt Krueger reads statement calling RWSA Board back into open session

Sean Tubbs


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