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July 28, 2010

RWSA unveils five-year, $171.6 million capital budget plan

Reader comments (1) DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Projects to maintain the community’s urban wastewater system are the primary driver of a $171.6 million capital improvement program for the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.

The five-year plan, which was presented to the RWSA board on Tuesday, anticipates spending $49 million on projects related to the urban water system and $121 million on the urban sewer system.

“We have inherited an infrastructure that has not been well taken care of in the past, but could be in the future,” said the RWSA’s executive director, Thomas L. Frederick Jr.

Download Download RWSA's Draft Capital Improvement Plan

A breakdown of projects related to the community water supply plan. Click to enlarge.
The capital budget is derived by calculating all the projects, both water and sewer, that RWSA engineers have recommended as necessary. While a final decision about the future of the long-term community water supply plan has not been made, the capital plan assumes construction of the water plan adopted in 2006.

Typically the RWSA has adopted a capital budget every year, but it has been more than two years, in part because cost estimates for construction and design for a new dam at Ragged Mountain more than doubled from the $34.5 million budgeted in 2008.

The capital budget also sets aside $2.3 million for right of way acquisition for a pipeline to connect the Ragged Mountain and South Fork reservoirs. Construction of the pipeline is not included in the five-year-plan and in February was projected to cost $63 million total.

The capital budget has been updated to reflect Schnabel Engineering’s design for an earthen dam and assumes spending $37.4 million on final design and construction. That figure includes mitigation required by federal and state permits, as well as an enhanced embankment where the reservoir touches Interstate 64.

Tom Frederick
Frederick said RWSA will not have to raise water rates to cover the costs of a new earthen dam in part because the authority has already been saving for its construction. However, Frederick said the RWSA will need to raise wholesale rates an average of 5 percent each year of the CIP to finance wastewater projects.

The majority of money recommended in the capital budget is to address wastewater issues. In March, the city of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the RWSA all agreed on a coordinated plan to reduce the amount of stormwater that infiltrates the system. Projects include the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, the replacement of the Meadow Creek Interceptor and upgrades of various pumping stations.

Dede Smith of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan questioned several aspects of the capital budget. She pointed out that a study of the pipeline released earlier this year only listed a cost estimate of $1.3 million for right of way for the pipeline. Smith also claimed the terms of the agreement on which the RWSA operates were not being honored.

“As a city resident, I object to the city for paying for any expansion of the water supply,” Smith said.

The RWSA wholesale rates are split into two sections. The city and county pay a portion toward operating costs, and another toward debt service to pay for RWSA infrastructure.

“With respect to water supply, there was a cost allocation agreement adopted in 2003 that established a split of 27 percent to the city and 73 percent to the county,” Frederick said. “Those percentages can be changed immediately upon the adoption of a new agreement.”

The city has been in negotiations with the Albemarle County Service Authority on a new agreement.

“The cost allocation agreement that we’re operating under now was for a different set of improvements,” said the city’s public works director, Judith Mueller. “Until we’re clear on what we’re going to build, it’s hard to do the cost [allocation].”

Mayor Dave Norris
Mayor Dave Norris said he agreed with Smith that the city should not be paying for capacity that it does not need. However Norris also supports a study, currently under way, which will reexamine the 50-year demand projections for both Charlottesville and Albemarle.

“The four-party agreement is pretty clear … that the locality that seeks an increase in supply is expected to pay for that supply,” Norris said.

The RWSA will vote on the capital budget at its meeting in September. Frederick also said he expected a new cost allocation agreement could be in place by then as well.


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