Environmental groups say new study shows dredging is insufficient for water plan
Four environmental groups backing the approved 50-year community water supply plan for Charlottesville and urban Albemarle County say new information proves that dredging alone is insufficient to provide water for either human or environmental needs.
The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority released a new study Tuesday by Hydrologics that for the first time shows the so-called “safe yield” of a dredging-only plan. Dredging supporters countered that the analysis was flawed and that the community needs to revisit past goals for improving stream flows.
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According to the Hydrologics report, one-time dredging of South Fork Rivanna Reservoir would produce a safe yield of 9.2 million gallons per day when combined with the stream flow releases contained in state and federal permits approved in 2008. Continuous dredging of South Fork for fifty years would produce a safe yield of 10.3 mgd.
Today’s urban water usage is about 9.9 mgd and updated forecasts released earlier this month indicate the community will need 16.26 mgd in 2055. The water plan was originally based on a goal of 18.7 mgd projected for 2055.
“The reason that we support the approved plan is because it does provide enough water and it does not force us to make a sacrifice, or make choices between providing water for people or water for nature,” 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. “We oppose the dredge-only option.”
Kittrell was joined at a news conference Tuesday by representatives from the Piedmont Environmental Council, the Rivanna Conservation Society and the League of Women Voters.
Dede Smith, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Charlottesville City Council, is a co-founder of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, a group opposed to the construction of a new earthen dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir.
“It needs a lot more explaining,” said Smith in an interview. “How do the stream flows work in the dredging scenario and how does it make such a huge impact on safe yield? I think it is because they are using stream flows that are inappropriate for that scenario.”
The environmental groups said Tuesday that revised demand forecasts by AECOM Technology Corporation, combined with the new analysis by Hydrologics, show that dredging alone would be insufficient to meet even today’s water needs.
“If you have more storage capacity, then you are able to draw water from your reservoir instead of taking water directly from your river during times of drought,” Kittrell said. “The approved plan does exactly that, dredging does not.”
The Hydrologics study was commissioned after the RWSA heard last Thursday from Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality. Scott Kudlas, a DEQ director responsible for surface and groundwater planning, wrote RWSA Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick Jr. with concerns about the use of past DEQ analyses.
“We received an email from Scott Kuldas last week saying he was concerned about some statements he had read and interpretations of [past DEQ letters] by some citizens,” said Frederick in an interview. “We agreed to have Hydrologics look at one-time and continuous dredging to determine what the safe yield would be with the stream flow releases indicated in our permit.”
Earlier this month Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan used an August 2010 DEQ letter on its website and in communications to local media to claim that dredging South Fork would provide 15.5 mgd.
“This is an inaccurate and inappropriate comparison that can only further confuse the public dialogue regarding the project,” said Kudlas in an email prior to the Hydrologics study. “[T]he DEQ analysis should no longer be used as a point of comparison with the other more recent estimates for determining yield or whether the facility meets projected demands…DEQ also believes that, for clarity, the Authority [should] consider having its current consultants run additional simulations to provide a valid comparison of safe yield.”
Asked to respond to the concerns raised by Kudlas, Smith said the RWSA, through its Hydrologics study, was now doing the same thing, “applying stream flows inappropriately.”
“If you are going to talk about South Fork, you need to revisit stream flows,” Smith added. “I am for improving stream flows but not tying them to the water supply. You would have to rewrite stream flow goals if you are going to do dredging.”
Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris says he continues to favor an alternative water plan focused on a smaller dam, a new $63 million pipeline and dredging.
“I haven’t said this publicly before, but I was perfectly prepared to argue we should build the pipeline at the start,” said Norris. “It absolutely accomplishes the stream flow protections and, if we build it at the beginning, it we will accomplish it sooner.”
“I have never argued that we should only do dredging,” said Norris. “[C]ontinuous restorative dredging and a small increase in the dam at Ragged Mountain…will most likely will save a substantial amount of money and avoid destruction of a biologically rich natural area.”
Norris was asked to address the long-term costs of 50 years of dredging.
“That’s a good point, and it’s the only remaining legitimate concern,” said Norris. “We have never put out an RFP for continuous dredging….I still believe market-based, pay as you go, opportunistic dredging, which restores the capacity of the reservoir, will be substantially less than one-time dredging.”
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress (used by permission)
Liz Palmer spoke at the Tuesday press conference representing the League of Women Voters. Palmer is also a member of the ACSA board.
“Some claim that the HDR [dredging] study showed that dredging is a lot less expensive than we previously thought, and they claim that because of this we should abandon the adopted plan,” Palmer said. “This is absolutely false, it is a false claim.”
Palmer said dredging would only provide 151 million gallons of water storage at a cost of $36 million and was not cost effective when compared to the 1.1 billion gallons of storage gained in building the earthen dam for $26 million.
“Ratepayers will pay $10 million more for one-eighth the amount of water on the dredge-only plan,” said Palmer. “Less expensive is the ‘greener plan.’”
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