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January 28, 2010

RWSA’s Frederick calls for investment in repairing sewer infrastructure

Reader comments (0) By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The executive director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) is calling upon his organization and Charlottesville and Albemarle County officials to redouble efforts to protect the community’s sewer lines from storm water. 

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“Sewer systems in ‘built-out’ communities must provide adequate capacity for wet weather orf face unhealthy streams as a result,” wrote Tom Frederick in a staff report for the RWSA’s January meeting.
According to Frederick, the community’s aging sewer pipelines contain many leaks which allows storm water infiltration. The additional amounts of water place more of a burden on the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

20100126-RWSA-Chart This chart from the January report on the RWSA's finances shows how urban wastewater flows significantly increased between October and December of 2009
In October, the RWSA reported that wastewater flows were 10% greater than what had been expected with an average flow of 9.55 million gallons a day (MGD). Two months later, that number had risen to nearly 16 MGD, a dramatic increase due to wetter weather. Frederick said the increase shows that the RWSA, Charlottesville and Albemarle must all budget money to plug the leaks. 

“Wastewater costs in the future are going to have to continue to increase as we deal with an infrastructure that has been over a number of years deferred in maintenance and needs significant attention,” Frederick said.

The RWSA’s top priority for replacement of its own infrastructure is the Meadowcreek sewer interceptor, which will get underway later this year at a cost of $19.2 million. Frederick said there is only one property remaining on which an easement is required. The pipeline will be increased in size from 24” to 36” both to accommodate wet-weather flows and future growth.

When that project is complete, the RWSA’s next priority is to replace the Schenk’s Branch interceptor. After that, Frederick said decisions would need to be made about other RWSA pipelines.

“The exact method of repair [in these areas] will depend upon some roadway decisions that need to be made as well,” Frederick said. “I don’t think that this effort will be without a lot of hard work and the necessary expenditures of important funds.”

Lauren Hildebrand, Charlottesville's utilities director, said the city will spend $26.5 million over the next five years to upsize the majority's of the 165 miles of sewer pipes within city limits. She said the work needed to be done in order to  comply with increased scrutiny from federal and state regulators. 

"It's more of a focus [from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Quality] now than it ever was," Hildebrand said.

The Albemarle County Service Authority is spending $2.2 million this year to address infiltration in a portion of the 245 miles of sewer pipes in its system, according to outgoing executive director Gary Fern.

“Since it costs money to pump and treat water which enters the sanitary sewer system, it is a waste of money to handle relatively clean stormwater,” Fern said in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow. “In addition, the stormwater uses capacity in the sanitary sewer needed for wastewater.  If a sanitary sewer’s capacity is filled with clean stormwater, then wastewater overflows the system at manholes potentially damaging the environment.”

Water plan critics question lack of capital budget, oversight for dredging study

During the meeting’s public comment period, former City Councilor Kevin Lynch questioned why the RWSA has not presented a capital improvement budget (CIP) since 2008. He asked for a draft CIP budget to be produced by March.

“There’s some serious work that has to be done to figure out who is going to pay for [infrastructure upgrade] and what it means for rates,” Lynch said. “The last time I heard any discussion of what [the water supply plan] would mean for rates was back in 2006.”

On the topic of the CIP, Frederick responded that the RWSA is waiting for the results of the various water supply plan studies currently underway before developing an updated capital budget.    

“There has been a consensus of this board that we obtain cost estimates from the consultants doing current studies and develop a CIP from those cost estimates rather than pull numbers virtually out of the sky,” Frederick said. “[Getting the] appropriate answers does take time.”

Frederick said the studies will come to a conclusion by June, and that the RWSA will develop a capital program based on those estimates and decisions made by the four boards with jurisdiction over the water supply.

On the topic of rates, Frederick said in an interview that the RWSA has raised its wholesale rates for the past years to reflect increased utility and production costs, as well as to pay for capital projects.

“The authority is dealing with a number of issues in trying to make improvements to deferred infrastructure,” Frederick said.

Betty Mooney of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan asked for clarification on how the City’s interests would be represented in the dredging feasibility study for the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. She reminded the RWSA Board that City Council requested that two citizens who helped select HDR Engineering continue to play a role in the oversight of the study.

“I don’t think it’s the same for them to just receive [the same information] we’re receiving,” Mooney said. “Their role is to be overseeing what the consultants are doing, to be in touch much more on the ground with that work.”

Frederick asked the RWSA Board for direction on how to proceed with this issue. Should there be a full steering committee, or should the two citizens be given access to the consultant?

Mayor Dave Norris told the RWSA Board that Council didn’t see a need for a steering committee, and would simply like Frederick to meet with the two citizen representatives, Russell Perry and Rebecca Quinn, to find out how they would like to be involved.

“I don’t think we need to make it any more complicated than that,” Norris said. Frederick said he would reach out to the pair.

The first public meeting on the dredging feasibility study will be held in late February or early March. However, Frederick said the RWSA website would be updated with each report as it is produced.

“As our consultant completes each of the nine tasks in his contract, there will be a written report summarizing his findings, and those reports will be posted to the website,” Frederick said.


  • 01:00 - Meeting called to order by Mike Gaffney, Chair of the RWSA
  • 02:06 - Frederick begins his monthly report with a discussion of replacing the sewer lines
  • 07:40 - Frederick updates the board on the Meadowcreek Interceptor
  • 09:00 - Frederick gives update on North Fork water line break
  • 12:30 - Public comment from Kevin Lynch criticizing lack of progress in progress reports, lack of a CIP
  • 18:20 - Public comment from Betty Mooney regarding representation on the dredging feasibility study
  • 21:30 - Public comment from Liz Palmer asking for a change in the way the RWSA calculates it rates
  • 24:00 - Frederick discusses public comments from November and December RWSA meetings
  • 28:00 - Frederick responds to Lynch's comments regarding lack of a CIP
  • 30:30 - Frederick responds to Mooney's comments about citizen oversight of dredging consultant HDR


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