Local officials find some common ground on water plan, but request more information on dam heights and dredging costs
By Brian Wheeler
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
A water supply proposal passed Monday by Charlottesville’s City Council was met with skepticism and frustration Tuesday from some Albemarle County officials. While the four boards with decision-making roles on the water supply found a lot of common ground, they failed to reach agreement on the specifics of a revised plan.
Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris emphasized at a joint meeting of the boards that the city’s revised water plan was intended to enact a phased approach to dam building that would provide new water storage when it was determined to be really necessary.
“We are not talking about starting over, we are not talking about throwing the plan out the window,” Norris said.
Almost three hours later, the parties had agreed to get additional information on several important issues, but no single water supply plan or approach to the dam’s construction had been identified as the preferred solution.
The city proposal, shared with county officials at the joint meeting Tuesday, emphasizes extensive and ongoing dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, phased construction of a taller dam at Ragged Mountain Dam, a new pipeline connecting Ragged Mountain to South Fork and aggressive water conservation efforts. Most of the joint meeting focused on the first two items, dredging and dam construction.
“We are looking to the reservoir for water supply and we are looking to restorative dredging to recapture water supply,” Norris said. “We are looking to the [request for proposals] process to help inform the final decision [on what areas should be dredged].”
The four boards agreed that dredging should be priced through an RFP process. However, the boards said dredging should be evaluated separately from the water supply plan and that the costs would still have to be negotiated between the city and county.
While county officials were quick to offer their qualified support for more information on the costs of dredging, they were strongly opposed to the city’s recommendation that the first phase of the new Ragged Mountain Dam only raise the reservoir level by 13 feet.
John Martin, a member of the Albemarle County Service Authority’s board of directors, said that he was concerned phasing the dam project could lead to a difficult decision in the future about when to add more storage.
“[If] the city views itself as being in a position in 15 or 20 years of either approving or vetoing a dam expansion … at that point in time the city would be making judgments on county growth,” Martin said. “I frankly don’t think it is the city’s call to be determining what additional capacity the Albemarle County Service Authority needs to serve county residents, that’s our job. Your job is to decide what capacity the city needs for your residents.”
The four boards’ discussion of whether to build the dam to its full height or in phases focused on factors related to feasibility, costs and whether a smaller initial dam would meet the approval of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, particularly with respect to the stream flow release requirements adopted in the 2006 water plan. [See DEQ's August 2, 2010 letter and comment below]
Thomas L. Frederick Jr., the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority’s executive director, said that his staff had done some preliminary work on phasing options for the dam and that the initial pool height needed was likely to be a minimum of 30 feet higher than the existing reservoir, more than twice what the City Council has recommended.
“That gets you, in terms of safe yield, something on the order of approximately one third of the way between where we are now and that goal that was set in 2004 of 18.7 [million gallons a day],” Frederick said. “What we are looking at preliminarily is that 13 feet is not going to be enough to give you a 15 to 20 year plan.”
Norris, however, insisted on another face-to-face meeting with DEQ officials by a delegation representing each of the four boards. There was consensus that a meeting should be scheduled as soon as possible to get the DEQ’s input on the dam’s height.
While the county agreed to accommodate dredging, the city agreed the final design of a full-height earthen dam at Ragged Mountain could be initiated. County officials agreed the city’s study of renovating the existing dam should be assessed by the RWSA’s outside panel of dam experts.
“Without an agreement between the city and county we are heading down a path I don’t think anyone wants to go,” Mike Gaffney, RWSA chairman, said in an interview. “Somehow, we have to agree on a plan.”
A summary of next steps will be reviewed by the RWSA board at its meeting next week. The four boards are expecting to meet again later this year to finalize an agreement on the community water supply plan.
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