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June 03, 2008

Federal agency grants permit for new dam and pipeline

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Rwsa An image taken from the RWSA's permit application for the Community Water Supply Plan (Source: RWSA)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a permit authorizing the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority to construct a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, a key component of the adopted 50-year community water supply plan. The permit clears the way for a new dam that would expand the capacity of the reservoir from 464 million gallons to 2.19 billion gallons.

The RWSA received the permit one day after the Charlottesville City Council voted to reaffirm their support for the plan, with an amendment directing the RWSA to undertake a sedimentation and feasibility study to dredge the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. The state Department of Environmental Quality issued its permit in February.

According to a media release from the RWSA, any plan that alters the flow of a navigable waterway must be deemed as the “least environmentally damaging, practicable alternative.” Prior to the community water supply plan’s adoption in June 2006 by the City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, dozens of alternatives were evaluated, including a pipeline from the James River. The RWSA’s mitigation plan includes placing 14.2 miles of streams along Buck Mountain Creek into buffered conservation areas, as well as the creation of 4 acres of wetlands near the RWSA’s wastewater treatment plant in the City of Charlottesville.

Tom Frederick, Executive Director of the RWSA, told Charlottesville Tomorrow that consultant Gannett Fleming is already working on the design of the new dam, with the hopes of submitting the design to the state Department of Conservation Resources by November. A new pipeline to connect the Ragged Mountain Reservoir with the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir has not been designed, but has been approved as part of the Army Corps of Engineer’s permit.

“Other elements of the plan will be scheduled at a later time, maybe years away,” Frederick said. He said the RWSA’s permit application, filed two years ago, contained environmental studies that satisfied the federal agency.

Pipeline An image from the RWSA's permit application depicting the pipeline that will connect the South Fork and Ragged Mountain reservoirs (Source: RWSA)

Frederick said that a sedimentation and feasibility study to dredge the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir will be conducted “in the near-term” subject to approval by the RWSA board, but added that he considers dredging to be a parallel process separate from implementation of the community water supply. At least one City Councilor, Mayor Dave Norris, expressed the hope that the study would show dredging could restore at least some capacity to South Fork, which loses 1% each year. Norris said that could mean a smaller dam at Ragged Mountain would fulfill the community’s water supply needs.

“We need to try to avoid trying to interpret the outcome before we’ve done the study,” Frederick said. “I can tell you that in the minds of the permitting agencies, they understand that their permit approval is based on the application we filed – and the application we filed was to raise the [water level] 45 feet.”

Frederick said that the RWSA’s approved Capital Improvement Program budget anticipates full construction of the $37 million dam, as does the ongoing design work. But, he said that if he gets direction from the RWSA Board to proceed with a smaller dam, the RWSA would contact the consultant to alter the design work. He added that the permitting process requires regular reporting to both the DEQ and the Army Corps of Engineers on the progress of implementation and design work.

Sean Tubbs

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