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July 23, 2011

Environmental groups meet with DEQ to lobby for water plan

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DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, July 23, 2011

Representatives from four local environmental groups met Friday with the head of the Department of Environmental Quality to make their case for the water supply plan approved in February by Albemarle and Charlottesville.

Last week, the same groups held a news conference to share new information, which they said proves that dredging alone is insufficient to provide water for both human and environmental needs.

“Our message to [DEQ] was that our five environmental groups strongly support the approved city-county water supply plan,” said Robbi Savage, executive director of the Rivanna Conservation Society. “It provides water for people, protects our rivers and costs less than the dredge-only plan, which does none of these.”

Savage was joined at the meeting by representatives from The Nature Conservancy, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the League of Women Voters. The fifth environmental organization in the pro-water plan coalition is the Piedmont Environmental Council.

The organizations said they remain fully committed to the goal of increasing stream flows in the Moormans and Rivanna rivers, a benefit they said state regulators also will insist be addressed in any water plan.

“What we learned from DEQ today was that they want to see the same level of river protection in the permit modification as what we have right now [in the approved water plan],” said Bill Kittrell, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy in Virginia and a member of the Albemarle County Service Authority board of directors.

“State law requires that in developing local water supply plans, that they be designed to meet human needs for water while protecting the river and the aquatic wildlife,” added Rick Parrish, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Scott Kudlas, a DEQ director responsible for surface and groundwater planning, confirmed his participation in the meeting, which took place at DEQ Director David K. Paylor’s office in Richmond.

The DEQ has previously informed the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority that the water plan, which now features an earthen dam built in phases, is a major change to the plan DEQ first authorized in 2008. In an interview, Kudlas said the meeting Friday focused on the process for reviewing the permit modifications, but not the merits of the current request from the RWSA.

Thomas L. Frederick Jr., executive director of the RWSA, said his staff had been responding to “minor questions” from DEQ about the permit changes.

“The DEQ will schedule a public hearing and a time for public comments,” Frederick said. “I don’t know the dates yet, but I know there is interest on both the part of the RWSA and the DEQ to resolve this issue by the end of the year.”

The lobbying comes in the midst of a hotly contested Democratic primary battle for the City Council. With construction on the new earthen dam delayed by the DEQ’s ongoing review, the fall election will shape the city’s position on the future of dredging, the dam and the entire water supply.

Parrish said he left the meeting with the impression it would take four to six months before the DEQ’s review would be completed. On that schedule, the water plan still will be in flux until after a new majority of the City Council has been elected in November.

The water plan has become a major issue separating the candidates running for three seats on the council. At a Democratic candidate forum last week, Dede Smith, Collette Blount, Brevy Cannon and James Halfaday all indicated they favor dredging and conservation as the primary approach for the water plan.

Incumbent Councilor Satyendra Huja and challengers Kathy Galvin and Paul Beyer indicated a preference for the earthen dam.

Cost estimates for dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir from Gannett Fleming in 2004 and 2008, and from HDR Engineering in 2010, indicate that dredging will be more expensive than the construction of the earthen dam at Ragged Mountain and produce much less water supply storage.

HDR Engineering said a one-time, seven-year dredging project could be done at South Fork for about $34 million to $40 million. With continued sedimentation at South Fork, the environmental groups said Friday that any effort to continuously dredge and maintain the original volume of the 1966 reservoir for the entire 50-year period of the water plan would be two to three times as expensive.

The RWSA continues to work with HDR to explore maintenance dredging of South Fork as a project separate from the water plan, last month budgeting $3.5 million for dredging at least a small portion of the reservoir.

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris has endorsed three of the four candidates who favor dredging — Smith, Blount and Cannon. In February, Norris was on the losing end of the 3-2 council vote that approved the water plan negotiated with the county. Supporting the plan at the time were Huja, along with David Brown and Kristin Szakos. Brown is not running for re-election and Szakos and Norris are only midway through their four-year terms.

At the candidate forum, Galvin asked Smith to explain how a water plan without a new dam for water storage would impact the stream flow goals included in the approved plan.

“Those requirements were determined by scientists throughout Virginia examining the needs of aquatic wildlife, and the state DEQ has to consider those environmental needs, along with human needs, when issuing or denying permits,” Galvin said. “Aren’t you just claiming that the facts about environmental needs should be ignored just because those facts show that a dredging-only water plan won’t work?”

“I feel that … improved stream flows at the Moormons River should be addressed separately from the water plan,” Smith responded. “I do not feel that it is necessary to tie them to the water plan, but when they are, that means that city rate payers … are basically paying for a river restoration project.”

“I absolutely support restoring and improving stream flows in the Moormons River,” she said, “just not under the scenario that they have it now.”

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