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February 13, 2008

Community Water Supply Plan receives state approval

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Raggedmtn2rwsaphoto
The lower dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir was built in 1908

The Department of Environment Quality has approved a draft permit for the expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir as well as a new pipeline connecting it to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Those are the two major components of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s 50-year water supply plan. The permit also includes approval of a mitigation plan that will place more than 14 miles of streams into conservation areas.

In a press release, RWSA Chairman Mike Gaffney said the approval was the culmination of years of planning.

“It’s been a very long journey, aided by significant public input, and complicated at times by massive federal regulations and required environmental studies,“ Gaffney said. “After years of effort, we can now say without hesitation that the Commonwealth of Virginia has fully authorized a plan that assures the sustainability of our water supply for another 50 years.”

“We now have the Commonwealth of Virginia’s full approval to implement the 50 year water supply plan,” said Tom Frederick, RWSA’s Executive Director.

The expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir will be accomplished by building a new dam downstream of the two existing dams. This new structure will create a pool 45 feet higher than what exists today. According to the RWSA, this will increase the storage capacity from 464 million gallons to 2.19 billion gallons.  However, the watershed that drains into Ragged Mountain is not sufficient to fill the reservoir, hence the need to construct a pipeline to South Fork.

RWSA staff have budgeted $42.7 million in its draft Capital Improvement Plan over the next five years to pay for the Community Water Supply Plan. That includes design and construction work for the new Ragged Mountain dam, water treatment plant upgrades, as well as initial right-of-way purchase for the pipeline. Full construction of the pipeline is estimated to cost $56 million, according to RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick. Under the tentative phasing plan, the pipeline is not expected to be constructed until at least 2020.

One more regulatory hurdle needs to be cleared before the project can go to construction. The US Army Corps of Engineers needs to approve a federal permit. The RWSA submitted its application in the summer of 2006, and Frederick said approval could come by the end of spring.  He added it is not unusual for state approval to come before federal approval.

Raggedmtn1rwsaphoto
The upper dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir was built in 1885

The RWSA now has until November to submit a full design to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees dam safety in the state. Their jurisdiction only applies to the physical structure of the dam.

Frederick said that design work is already underway. Crews are drilling holes in the ground to determine the composition of the bedrock on which the new dam will be built.

Frederick said he hopes construction can begin by 2009. While a construction timeline has not been finalized, Frederick said it could be phased in order to minimize risks to the contractors. First, the land below the existing dams would be cleared, followed by construction. Lowering the risk will keep costs low.

Another issue to be resolved is what the RWSA will do to improve Reservoir Road to allow heavy construction vehicles access to the site. Frederick said his agency is soliciting input from landowners along the road, and that this discussion is now moving ahead.

Some critics of the Community Water Supply plan allege that the plan is environmentally damaging, and threatens water quality. Frederick denies this claim.

“When folks understand the type of scrutiny the federal and state government require, there is no  way you could get a permit without a detailed plan that answers a lot of questions,” Frederick said. He said the RWSA sought community input in a series of meetings, which ended with unanimous approval by members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council in June 2006.

“Our continuing goal is to keep all groups and to keep the local community informed,” Frederick said. He said he will continue to brief the Board and Council as the plan is implemented.

One community activist who has been following the issue for many years called the DEQ approval a historic moment. "The project involved a total community effort, and it's something this community can be very proud," said John Martin with Friends of the Moormans River.

Sean Tubbs

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