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« Council directs RWSA to conduct full review of water supply plan | Main | ACSA also wants meeting with City Council to discuss water supply plan »

November 05, 2008

Supervisors seek joint meeting with City Council to discuss water supply plan

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The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is requesting a joint meeting with the Charlottesville City Council to discuss the adopted 50-year community water supply plan. Council this week directed its two representatives on the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s Board of Directors to vote to conduct a full review of the major elements of the plan. 

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“[The Council’s proposal] appears to be going back if not to square one, then maybe to square two,” said Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) as the Board’s discussion got underway at the very end of the Board’s meeting on November 5, 2008.

Tom Frederick, the Executive Director of the RWSA, said that the proposal would add four new studies to the proposed design review of the new Ragged Mountain new dam. One of them would review the demand calculations used by the RWSA to project the safe yield target of 18.7 million gallons a day [MGD] used in the permit applications for the adopted water supply plan. He estimated the work would take between nine-months and a year, and that’s only if the project is “fast-tracked.”

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RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick addresses the Board of Supervisors

Frederick said he was asked by City Manager Gary O’Connell for assistance in preparing the proposal. O’Connell is one of the City’s two representatives on the RWSA Board. Frederick estimated the cost of the studies would range from $750,000 to beyond $1 million if all of the requests in the proposal are carried out.  Supervisors joked that if the City wants the studies, they should use revenue-sharing money to pay for it. The studies, if conducted, will likely be paid for from the RWSA’s budget.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said it would be nice to have much of the data, but was not sure how many additional studies the community would be willing to pay for.

County Executive Bob Tucker, another member of the RWSA Board, said he was concerned that the studies would delay a deadline imposed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to either fix or replace the existing dams at Ragged Mountain. Frederick said his staff was working on a status report to give to DCR official that would include reference to the City’s request that no work on the new dam proceed until all of the various studies are conducted. Frederick said the community was first notified about the Lower Dam’s structural problems in 1979 and has sought permission to delay a fix ever since.

“If as a result of the studies the community wanted to go in a different direction and go outside of the context of the written permits, there could be substantial delays in trying to modify permits and there’s always a risk that you can start at the beginning again,” Frederick said.

“The time we’re taking on this is making it… almost impossible for us to meet the June 2011 deadline that [DCR] has imposed on us, and this community does become at risk for enforcement actions by state agency for not complying with state regulatory requirements,” Frederick said. Possible sanctions could include fines, but Frederick said DCR has the power to get a court order to drain the reservoir to prevent a catastrophe.

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) said he did not have a problem with the community seeking to find better ways to conserve more water, but that he did not think it should be a condition of the water supply plan. Rooker explained how he saw the views of the opponents of the plan.

“If you can lower the demand analysis so that it’s 15 MGD instead of 18.7 MGD by saying you conserve more… then you start getting to a point where dredging may satisfy that new demand,” Rooker said. He suggested meeting with Council as soon as possible. “It doesn’t really help to have the separate entities firing out resolutions which substantially alter the obligations of everyone involved… They’re under pressure from their neighborhood groups, different Councilors have different opinions on what ought to be done. The only way we’re going to be able to intelligently deal with this is sit down with City Council… and get everything out on the table to try to come to some joint decision about the direction we go in.”

However, Slutzky said he would prefer to send a message to Council that expressed the Board’s support for the adopted plan.

“We don’t object to doing [the studies] but we object to doing them as a stumbling block to actually moving forward with a plan that’s been through rigorous analysis, public input, collaboration and ultimately agreement,” Slutzky said.

Frederick said the RFP to go forward with the panel of experts to review the dam design is almost ready to go, pending action by the RWSA Board. Rooker pointed out that Council’s action means that the City’s two representatives will not vote to proceed. He said he thought that Board needed to proceed with capital projects with unanimous votes.

The RWSA will now try to coordinate a meeting within the next week. The Albemarle County Service Authority’s Board of Directors will discuss the matter on Thursday, November 6, 2008.

Sean Tubbs

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