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September 23, 2008

RWSA approves panel to evaluate engineering and costs for new Ragged Mountain Dam

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The Board of Directors for the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) has approved the creation of an independent panel of experts to determine the best way to proceed with the design of the new dam to enlarge the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. Shortly before their meeting on September 22, 2008, RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick announced that the cost estimate for the dam had risen to over $70 million, and that a second opinion had been sought. Frederick will now put together the panel but will need further approval from the RWSA Board before their work can begin.

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In his presentation to the Board, Frederick provided further details about Gannett Fleming’s revised cost estimate, which jumped from $37 million to as much as $71 million. Frederick said one of the biggest challenges of building a new dam is to evaluate the geology of the foundation on which it will be built.  Gannett Fleming’s initial interpretations of the various borings and other surveys led their engineers to recommend digging the foundation deeper into the ground, as well as building wider walls along the sides. 

“The magnitude of those increases in the opinion of that engineer was enough concern to RWSA staff that we felt it prudent and necessary to stop the design work and obtain a second opinion,” Frederick said. Schnabel Engineering was brought in to review Gannett Fleming’s work, and Frederick said Schnabel’s report points out up to $13.5 million in cost savings by building a foundation that is only slightly deeper and wider than the existing Gannett Fleming design. However, Schnabel is also calling for additional geotechnical work in order to determine if additional savings can be made.  Gannett Fleming has conducted some of those surveys, but have not yet analyzed the data.

Frederick recommended that design work on the new dam Ragged Mountain Reservoir continue to be halted while a panel of independent experts is convened. He acknowledged the panel will cost the RWSA money, but said the extra expertise would benefit the project.

“We do want to look for people who are renowned in their experience in dams and try to get the best information and best decisions that we can,” Frederick said. The panel will review both cost estimates as well as the raw geotechnical data. Frederick said the panel may also want to conduct additional surveys, and also asked the RWSA board if the proposed pipeline from SFRR to RMR should be included in the review.  The Board later declined to add the pipeline to the review at this time, but left the possibility of adding that topic at a later time.

In response to questions from the RWSA Board, Frederick had more details. The panel review is expected to last until at least the end of the calendar year. There is currently no cost estimate for how much the panel review will cost. Gannett Fleming will be allowed to analyze the additional data they have already collected, information that will also be shared with Schnabel Engineering. The composition of the panel, as well as how much money the RWSA will spend convening it, will come back to the Board for consideration at its meeting in October.

Opponents of the expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir used the public comment period to advocate that dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir be undertaken as a component of the 50 Year Community Water Supply Plan. Former RWSA Chairman Rich Collins, now a member of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, said he did not understand why dredging was not being considered, especially in light of the increase in the cost estimate for the dam.

Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch, who voted for the Community Water Supply Plan in June 2006, said he did so as an “unwitting participant in a fraud on the ratepayers and taxpayers.” Lynch called for the development of a new plan, because he claimed an expanded Ragged Mountain Reservoir will not work without the construction of a new pipeline to carry water from SFRR.  Charlottesville resident Betty Mooney called for the resignation of the entire RWSA Board because, in her opinion, none of them represent ratepayers, and she threatened taking action to dissolve the RWSA itself. 

In response, County Executive Bob Tucker said that four of the five members of the RWSA Board are appointed due to their position in local government, but that all serve the will of the City Council and the Board of Supervisors.  

Other news:

  • The RWSA has begun releasing 1 million gallons a day of water into the Moormans River, or natural inflow, whichever is less. Frederick said this is above and beyond the requirements of the federal permit, which requires only 400,000 gallons a day. “We will do so as long as there is no threat to the water supply,” Frederick said.
  • Frederick reported that water levels at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir will be dropping over the next few days due to an emergency repair of the Sugar Hollow.  Water is diverted from the Sugar Hollow Reservoir into the Ragged Mountain Reservoir through an 18-inch gravity fed pipeline about 13 miles in length.  Since 2000 the RWSA has made several emergency repairs to the pipeline, including one in September 2004 that cost close to $200,000.  The oldest portion of the pipeline  dates to 1908 and, because of its condition, the pipeline will be abandoned as part of the 50 year Community Water Supply Plan.


  • 1:00 - Executive Director's report (truncated due to recording error)
  • 4:00 - Public comment from Hawes Spencer
  • 4:51 - Public comment from Rich Collins, former RWSA Chair
  • 8:15 - Public comment from Kevin Lynch of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan
  • 10:00 - Public comment from Albemarle County resident Richard Lloyd
  • 12:30 - Public comment from Betty Mooney
  • 17:00 - Consent agenda passes
  • 17:30 - Frederick's briefing on the new Ragged Mountain Dam
  • 27:00 - Discussion of whether the pipepline would be part of the independent review panel
  • 30:00 - County Executive Bob Tucker asks for a timeline for the review
  • 32:00 - ACSA Executive Director Gary Fern asks what further information can be analyzed
  • 32:49 - Schnabel Engineer Chris Webster responds
  • 33:30 - Gaffney asks Webster what other information a panel might want to review
  • 34:45 - Fern asks Webster about Schnabel's claims that the Gannett Fleming estimate is "too conservative"
  • 36:30 - Gaffney asks Frederick what kind of people should serve on the panel
  • 40:50 - Tucker moves to accept Frederick's recommendation to convene a panel
  • 42:20 - Tucker addresses Betty Mooney's call for RWSA Board members to resign

Sean Tubbs


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