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February 25, 2010

Engineering firm: South Fork to Ragged Mountain pipeline is feasible

Reader comments (2) By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Engineers with a Lynchburg-based firm have stated that a planned pipeline to connect the South Fork and Ragged Mountain reservoirs is feasible and that the $63 million cost estimate for the project is “reasonable.”

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) paid Wiley Wilson $25,000 to review the concept, which is a major component of the 50-year community water supply plan adopted by Albemarle County and Charlottesville in 2006. City Council asked for the review last year in response to concerns from city residents who argued the idea is not practical and would be too expensive.

“We don’t see any show-stoppers,” said Tom Fitzgerald, a vice president at Wiley Wilson and project manager for the review. On Tuesday, Fitzgerald encouraged the RWSA’s Board of Directors to continue pursuing the project.

One prominent critic of the water supply plan was not satisfied by the study. Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch called the report a “regurgitation” of the original concept developed by Gannett Fleming.

“The study is about $1,000 of engineering and $24,000 worth of marketing,” Lynch said in an interview.

The project would create a new water supply intake at the South Fork Reservoir, as well as several pump stations to move up to 25 million gallons a day (MGD) of water uphill along the pipeline at a speed of three feet per second. 

The new pipeline would be able to transfer water in both directions, though the normal operating procedure would be to fill an expanded Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

Today that Ragged Mountain is filled via the Sugar Hollow Reservoir using a 13-mile pipeline that the RWSA says needs to be retired or replaced.  The Sugar Hollow Pipeline has diverted water from the Moormans River since 1927, even before the completion of the Sugar Hollow Dam in 1947.

20100225-Wilson-Chart Click for larger image
The $63 million pipeline project would also include a treatment facility that would remove sediment from water with drawn from South Fork before it is pumped to Ragged Mountain. Sedimentation has been a perennial problem for the South Fork Reservoir since it was built in 1966.

The pipeline concept had previously been endorsed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers when they issued permits for the community water supply plan in 2008.  Further permits from the Virginia Department of Health will be required for the pretreatment facility.

Albemarle County Supervisor Ken Boyd, a member of the RWSA Board, said he thought the study validated the original concept.

“My interpretation is that [Wiley Wilson] thinks Gannett Fleming did a good job in coming up with their original estimate,” Boyd said.

By incorporating design adjustments and accounting for inflation, Wiley Wilson said their revised cost estimate of $63 million was $367,500 less than the cost projected in 2006.

Lynch, who voted for the plan in 2006 when he was on City Council,  said he thinks the report drastically underestimates the cost of acquiring easements for the approximately 9-mile route of the pipeline.

The 2006 cost estimate included $407,000 for land acquisition, but the Wiley Wilson report raised that figure to $1.325 million. The study estimates at least 80 easements will have to be acquired for the pipeline. The increase is due to an acknowledgement that the western bypass of U.S. 29 is not likely to be built.

“If they think they’re going to get a 40-foot right of way for a million, clearly there was no real examination,” said Lynch who also warned that the cost of acquiring property for the pipeline could sky-rocket.

He said if RWSA does build the pipeline, it should begin plotting out a route as soon as possible. However, Lynch said his preference would be to continue using the gravity-fed pipeline from Sugar Hollow.

The Wiley Wilson study is the latest of several that re-examine the various aspects of the community water supply plan. The first phase of the dredging feasibility study of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir has just been published on the RWSA’s website, though a new cost estimate for dredging will not be completed until May.

The 2006 plan envisions a new dam at Ragged Mountain, built downstream of the 1908 dam, that would raise the reservoir pool by 45 feet.  Schnabel Engineering is in the process of designing that dam, with the revised cost estimates also expected to be ready in May.  Meanwhile, the City has asked engineering firms to bid on their own proposal to study whether the existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam, built in 1908, can be repaired or raised by just 13 feet.


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