Supporters and opponents of building a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir took part Thursday in a public hearing on whether the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality should approve changes to a permit that allows it to be built.
The DEQ originally issued a permit for the construction of the dam in February 2008, but it must be modified because the plan was altered.
“We are recommending approval of the modification of the permit,” said Brenda Winn, a water withdrawal project manager with the DEQ. “The environmental impacts are not significantly different.”
The first phase of the dam will increase the reservoir’s capacity to 1.55 billion gallons of storage. If a second phase is constructed, the reservoir would have a total storage volume of 2.19 billion gallons.
The permit also allows for construction of a pipeline to connect the Ragged Mountain and South Fork Rivanna reservoirs. The permit lists specific amounts of water that must be released into the Moormans and Mechums rivers when new infrastructure is in place.
The community water supply plan now calls for construction of an earthen dam in two phases, which requires the permit to be modified in order to allow for different figures to be released into the Moormans River. The permit originally allowed for a concrete dam.
Under the permit, the Sugar Hollow pipeline would be retired after the dam is fully expanded and the new pipeline is built. Instead, water will be released into the Moormans River in order to supply the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Water would then be pumped to Ragged Mountain through the new pipeline.
Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said the full board supports building the new dam and asked the State Water Control Board to approve the permit modification.
“The plan was developed over many years with careful study and provides drinking water for us while restoring rivers,” Rooker said. “The Moormans doesn’t flow 40 percent of the time … but the permit modification would allow the river to flow freely 90 percent of the time.”
Rooker said the board would prefer to build the whole dam now, but is agreeing to phase its construction because a majority on the Charlottesville City Council wants the dam to be built in two phases.
However, city resident John Morrison pleaded with the water control board to terminate the permit because it will provide more water than the community needs.
“The massive number of negative impacts of the new dam do not justify this incredible expense nor the ensuing loss of natural resources,” Morrison said. He added that he favors a plan to dredge the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and build on top of the existing dam.
Rebecca Quinn of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan called on the permit to be terminated, not modified.
“We call on the SWCB to pay close attention to its statutory and regulatory responsibilities,” Quinn said. “Those responsibilities demand reconsideration of all the facts and new information and not just what the [Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority] wants the SWCB to see.”
For instance, Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan asserts that the plan is based on water demand figures that are out of date. The group also claims that the RWSA inflated the cost of dredging the South Fork.
“What we know now is different than what they said,” Quinn said.
Representatives of the League of Women Voters, the Nature Conservancy, the Rivanna Conservation Society and the Southern Environmental Law Center all spoke to express their support.
Forty people had made comments by press time. About two-thirds of the speakers asked the DEQ to deny the permit modification.
Representatives of the Sierra Club expressed their opposition. Several speakers opposed to the dam said RWSA officials should be investigated by the attorney general for potential misdeeds.
Written public comments will be accepted by the DEQ through Oct. 14.
The State Water Control Board, an appointed body that oversees the DEQ, will decide on whether to grant the permit modification at its meeting in early December.
“I would like to point out that the relevant federal and state regulations are the basis of the actions to be taken by the board,” said Shelton Miles, chairman of the water control board.