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October 18, 2011

Divided Charlottesville council adopts regional water plan

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Charlottesville City Council voted 3-2 Monday to approve a regional plan intended to demonstrate to state regulators that the area will have enough water withstand severe droughts in the future.

The vote came over the protests of Mayor Dave Norris, who argued the plan does not use information that was obtained in order to write it.

State law requires the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority to submit a plan to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality by Nov. 2.

"It's almost like this whole process was conducted simply to satisfy the state requirement and nothing more," Norris said. "Well, now we can check off that box and proceed with the plan we were going to implement regardless."

As part of the plan, the RWSA hired AECOM to prepare a new 50-year demand forecast. Engineers with the company projected that the system should plan for a "safe yield" in 2060 of 16.96 million gallons of water a day in order to allow it to make it through a drought.

That is a lower figure than calculated by the firm Gannett Fleming in 2004 when it projected the community would need a safe yield of 18.7 mgd by 2055.

Councilor Holly Edwards joined Norris in voting against the plan because both believe the new infrastructure that will be built to add extra water capacity is far more than the community needs.

"My opinion about the water supply has not changed and I do have concerns about the direction that it is going," Edwards said.

At a council meeting earlier this month, Norris asked for more time to review public comments that had been submitted as part of the plan.

The community water supply plan, which is technically a separate document, was originally adopted in 2006 by unanimous votes on both City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

The underlying concept behind the plan is to expand the water storage at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir by building a new dam and eventually construct a pipeline to connect the Ragged Mountain and Sugar Hollow reservoirs.

The original engineering firm that designed the new dam was fired by the RWSA after its cost estimate for the structure nearly tripled. Schnabel Engineering was hired and reduced the cost of the dam by switching from a concrete dam to one made of rock and soil that can be obtained nearby the reservoir.

During the review of the plan, Norris had suggested an alternative based on conservation, dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, and repairing the existing dam to satisfy safety concerns held by Virginia's dam safety division.

"The plan laid out meets 100 percent of our 2055 water needs and has the built-in flexibility to readily increase storage if it turns out our needs are greater than expected," Norris said.

Rebecca Quinn with the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan said the regional water plan contains outdated information. Specifically she said it does not acknowledge a 2009 bathymetric study conducted by the firm HDR that she claimed showed the South Fork Reservoir has more water storage than previously thought.

"The regional plan can be updated, but let's be clear - there is no way to 'update' the unnecessary financial and environmental harm that will result from the dam-and-pipeline plan," Quinn said in comments to the council.

However, RWSA executive director Thomas L. Frederick said the plan was amended after the last council meeting to reflect the results of the 2009 HDR study.

Frederick defended the plan.

"Some arguments that some are making that we're grossly overbuilding is really a false statement," Frederick said.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors adopted the regional plan on Oct. 5. The Albemarle County Service Authority will take it up at its meeting Thursday.

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