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November 05, 2008

Council directs RWSA to conduct full review of water supply plan

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Mayor Norris reads from the proposal

The Charlottesville City Council has voted to direct the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s Board of Directors to appoint an expert panel to review the major elements of the Community Water Supply Plan.  A detailed proposal was crafted by City Manager Gary O’Connell and discussed by Council at their meeting on November 3, 2008, though the item was not listed on the agenda. 

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The Board of Supervisors is expected to take up the matter late in their meeting on November 5, 2008 and the Albemarle County Service Authority will discuss the proposal at a special meeting on Thursday, November 6, 2008.

Mayor Dave Norris said the review would provide Council and staff with more information on water supply alternatives in order to reduce costs. “This is Council’s written instructions to our representatives on the RWSA board,” Norris said.

The City is proposing the RWSA appoint an expert of three “senior executive level professional engineers” to oversee the commissioning of several technical studies. It would be up to the RWSA Board to determine if this would be a separate panel from the one that be convened to study cost estimates for the new Ragged Mountain Dam.

Council is requesting the following studies be conducted:

  • The RWSA would hire a firm to conduct a full study of how more aggressive water conservation measures could reduce demand and “achieve a significant water use reduction per capita.”
  • The panel would review the model the RWSA has used to calculate future demand, and would factor conservation into new estimates.
  • The RWSA would conduct a full dredging study, if the South Fork Reservoir Stewardship Task Force recommends maintenance dredging, in order to develop cost estimate for both initial dredging as well as on-going dredging. The study would also determine feasibility of constructing forebays to prevent additional sediment from getting in.
  • RWSA will hire a team of experts to conduct full review of the design of the proposed Ragged Mountain Dam. The review will be focused on building a dam at the “lowest possible cost,” which could include strengthening the existing dam. This team would also “determine the extent to which the height of this proposed dam could be lowered to reduce total storage volume by an amount equivalent to the volume restored in South Fork. The goal is to provide an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the two alternatives.
  • RWSA will hire a firm to review the conceptual design for a pipeline between the South Fork Rivanna and Ragged Mountain Reservoirs, including the pipeline’s diameter. The review would extend to “field reconnaissance” of potential pipeline routes, and would provide a cost estimate for the project. This firm will also provide a cost estimate for replacement of the existing Sugar Hollow Pipeline which carries water from Sugar Hollow to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

“The idea for a panel of experts came about because of a significant increase in cost estimates,” O’Connell said.

Mayor Norris made an amendment to the proposal to explicitly state that work on the Ragged Mountain Dam would not proceed until all of the studies are complete. O’Connell said that he did not know how long the studies would take to complete, but he hoped the panel of experts could be in place by January.

Councilor David Brown said he supported the review of the pipeline, but questioned whether a study of the Sugar Hollow replacement pipeline should be conducted. O’Connell said that doing so would allow for a cost comparison between the two projects.

Councilor Holly Edwards said it was good to get a “second opinion” and added that she questions the existing 50-year demand calculations.

Earlier in the meeting, Dede Smith with the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan called the adopted 50-year plan a river restoration project rather than a water supply project. Norris echoed her comments.

“The biggest difference between the adopted water supply plan and the alternatives set forward by Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan is how much are we willing to invest in river restoration? If we were to say that our goal is simply to increase in-stream flow to the Moormans River versus restoring ‘natural’ in-stream flow to the Moormans River, we would have a much cheaper plan and a much simpler plan,” Norris said. “One of the most valuable pieces to come out of all this research will be the cost-differential.” 
Norris said he hoped that his counterparts in the County would agree that a full review should be conducted.

Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch reads the proposal which was distributed to members of the audience

Members of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan reacted to the proposal during Council’s second round of matters from the public. Betty Mooney said she appreciated that Council was looking at the water supply issue with new eyes, but said she was concerned about the conditions mentioned in the section of the proposal that calls for the dredging studies. She was concerned that the Task Force’s membership will not vote to pursue dredging to restore capacity to South Fork, and thus the studies would not go forward.

Mayor Norris responded by saying that he was certain that the task force would make a recommendation to dredge to restore for water storage capacity.

Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch said the proposal was an improvement, but demanded that the consultants report to City Council, and not the RWSA. He also pointed to a 2003 report from Gannett Fleming that showed how the existing Ragged Mountain Dams could be strengthened to last for another 100 years.

Joe Mooney said while he supported the proposal, he would have preferred to have had the chance to comment directly on the proposal in order to add other suggestions. One of those would be a study to determine whether there really are James River Spineymussels in the location of the proposed Buck Mountain Reservoir. Land was purchased in Free Union for the reservoir, but the project did not go forward because it was believed that the presence of endangered species would prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from granting a permit.

Sean Tubbs


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