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October 04, 2011

Environmental mitigation plan for dam will build new wetlands and protect streams

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DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The debate over the approved 50-year community water supply plan and the new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir has, more often than not, typically passed over in-depth discussions of its environmental mitigation plan.

At a Tuesday luncheon, the League of Women Voters of Charlottesville/Albemarle put that issue in focus for an audience of about 25 interested people.

20111004-wetlands Federal law requires the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County to demonstrate how it will mitigate environmental damage caused by the construction of the new dam and the flooding of land at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area.

Thomas L. Frederick Jr., executive director of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority, reviewed two major mitigation projects that he said are required by the Clean Water Act so that “on balance the environment is not being harmed” by the $140 million water plan.

“In our case, our mitigation plan consists of two projects at two different sites,” Frederick said. “One for wetlands mitigation, and a second one for streams mitigation.”

The RWSA has recently acquired or already owns land for both mitigation sites. Wetlands impacted by the new dam will be replaced on about 5 acres off Franklin Street in the city, adjacent to the Charlottesville Stockyard.

20111004-Frederick
Tom Frederick, RWSA Executive Director

“In the minds of many people who are in the field of study of soils, they believe that this was once a natural wetland and it just got lost along the way of early development of property,” Frederick said.

The RWSA will recreate 4 acres of wetlands to supplement one acre that still exists at the site today.

Stream and forest impacts will be mitigated in the Buck Mountain area of Albemarle near Free Union on more than 1,800 acres acquired in 1983 for a reservoir that was never built.

The Buck Mountain Reservoir ran into federal permitting challenges in large part because of the identification of habitat for the James spinymussel, an endangered species.

Frederick said 14 miles of streams and 300 acres of riparian buffer will be permanently protected limiting stormwater pollution and erosion that could contribute to further sedimentation of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir located downstream.

The League is one of several environmental groups that has endorsed the water plan, which calls for a new dam and pipeline to connect the Ragged Mountain and South Fork reservoirs. The Sierra Club and Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan continue to support dredging and repairing existing water infrastructure.

City resident Martha Levering is a member of the League’s natural resources committee, which organized the luncheon.

“There has been so much controversy, on many levels, and what I hear is a heartfelt fear that we are going to harm so much,” Levering said. “The mitigation shows that we are going to repair so much.”

Democratic City Council candidate Dede Smith, who opposes the new dam and is co-founder of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, asked if area schools would be able to utilize the streams in the Buck Mountain area for educational work. Frederick said such use would be possible and was a “great idea.”

Smith also asked if the Ragged Mountain Natural Area would remain open during construction of the earthen dam, which will raise the reservoir pool 30 feet in its first phase, and ultimately 42 feet if required in a second phase.

“We’ve had conversations with the city and the Ivy Creek Foundation about what needed to be done and how to best accommodate it,” Frederick said. “It was the choice of the city parks and recreation director, for safety reasons, to close the area and trails during construction.”

Frederick estimated the natural area would be closed to the public for 20 to 24 months. Construction of the earthen dam is expected to begin next year.

“I hate the idea of all that environmental degradation, but for me the most important thing is having enough water,” Levering said. “I absolutely know without a shadow of a doubt how important water is going to be in our very near future ... and I’m willing to see a little disruption.”

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