Earthen dam design moves forward for Ragged Mountain; Many other water plan issues remain unresolved
By Brian Wheeler
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The final design for a new full-sized earthen dam at Ragged Mountain will proceed despite a phasing plan recently floated by Charlottesville’s City Council. The decision comes a week after the county supervisors, Albemarle County Service Authority, Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority and the City Council met to discuss the status of the 50-year community water supply plan that includes a larger dam and new supply pipeline.
“Our board is still solidly behind the 2006 plan,” said Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd at Tuesday’s RWSA board of directors meeting. “I see that possibly we can conserve better … and if we end up with more water than what we need, I think that’s great because then it will be a 100-year plan instead of a 50-year plan.”
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Schnabel Engineering will work on the earthen dam’s final design, for at least the next month, with the understanding that Albemarle will cover the costs and the RWSA and city will continue to explore dredging plus other dam approaches.
Earlier this month, the city received the results of a study by engineering firm Black & Veatch that said the existing dam at Ragged Mountain, built in 1908, could be expanded in phases. Last week, the council floated a compromise proposal that had the dam being designed, with an initial increase of the reservoir pool by 13 feet, but built with a foundation that could support a reservoir up to 42 feet taller.
“I don’t think anyone wants to delay this any further,” city Mayor Dave Norris reiterated at Tuesday’s RWSA meeting. “From the city’s perspective, we are ready to move on implementation of a plan.”
However, Chris Webster, Schnabel’s Charlottesville project administrator, said the earthen dam designed by his firm required a minimum initial pool increase of 20 feet, 7 feet taller than the city’s preference, if it was also going to be built to go as high as 42 feet in the future.
County officials said Tuesday that they wanted an earthen dam to be designed and built all at once and that the city’s Black & Veatch study, if pursued, should first be evaluated by an independent panel of dam experts. However, Boyd warned that further analysis of any alternatives of interest to the city could result in more delay and higher costs.
“Whichever way we go it is going to cost money and time to try and get further clarification on very preliminary information about expanding the existing dam,” Boyd said. “That’s probably what’s bothering us in the county an awful lot, this money and time.”
When a motion to approve the entire $869,000 final design contract for the full-sized earthen dam failed to get any support from the three city representatives on the RWSA board, a requirement was added to specify that the county would cover the initial costs. County officials responded by limiting the initial scope to one month and up to $50,000, and that motion was approved unanimously.
“Let’s keep Schnabel working — which I think has been the direction of our board — on a dam 42 feet [higher] with a pool level [initially] at 30 feet,” said Gary B. O’Connell, the former city manager and now ACSA executive director. “I’ll get [the ACSA board’s] approval at the next board meeting to extend it beyond that … I think their concern is to keep it moving.”
Last week, the four boards agreed that dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir should be priced through an RFP process separate from the water plan. Tuesday, the RWSA board discussed the next steps on dredging and who would manage the work — the city or the RWSA.
A June study by HDR Engineering said one-time dredging of the South Fork could be accomplished for between $34 million and $40 million in a seven-year project. Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan has said additional options for dredging need to be evaluated and priced before a water plan is finalized.
“Quite frankly, I do not think that [the RWSA] should be in charge of the RFP,” said the group’s Dede Smith to the RWSA board. “It should be the city, the city paid the bulk of the costs for that [HDR] study and I would ask the city representatives to take on that RFP.”
Later in the meeting Norris said he wanted to discuss further with the City Council the specifics of who would administer the dredging RFP process.
“If we are talking about doing the one-time dredging in the HDR study, from a purely financial standpoint, I don’t know if that makes a whole lot of sense,” Norris said. “I have been convinced that there are better ways to dredge and cheaper ways to dredge and I just want to make sure that the RFP is structured to allow that.”
The RWSA is also still coordinating with officials from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to schedule a meeting, as early as in October, to review the water plan. City officials said last week that they had been unaware that the DEQ had finalized a letter of determination indicating that dredging plus a 13-foot dam increase would not be sufficient for the community’s long-term needs nor stream flow requirements. [See DEQ's August 2, 2010 letter]
RWSA board members said they supported having the meeting with DEQ officials open to the public at a location in Charlottesville.