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September 18, 2010

County authority: We will pay for water supply capacity increase

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By Sean Tubbs and Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, September 17, 2010

The Albemarle County Service Authority’s Board of Directors wants the Charlottesville City Council to know one thing before a vote is taken on the water supply plan.

“The ACSA is going to pay for county growth,” said Clarence Roberts, chairman of the authority’s board at a meeting Thursday. “It’s pretty clear that message has not been sent and I think it needs to be said.”

Download Download the ACSA's letter to City Council

One of the concerns raised by the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, which favors dredging to meet long-term water needs instead of building a new dam and pipeline, is that city ratepayers will pay for additional capacity that is only necessary to support population growth in the county. Further, they told the City Council earlier this month that increased conservation of water will eventually require higher water rates to cover debt to pay for the water plan.

The Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia estimates that in 2009 Albemarle County had a population of 95,247 and Charlottesville had a population of 40,317. The Virginia Employment Commission projects Albemarle’s population will increase to 120,456 by 2030. In contrast, Charlottesville’s population is expected to increase by less than 2,000.

Photo of the Ragged Mountin Reservoir provided by Tailwheel Basics, LLC

Rather than charge a direct fee to localities to cover expansion, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority builds infrastructure costs into the wholesale rates it charges the city and county. These rates are governed by a series of cost-sharing agreements that assess how much each locality will benefit from a particular project.

In 1999, the RWSA increased the capacity of the South Rivanna Water Treatment plant by 4 million gallons a day. Because the city did not need any of that additional capacity, the RWSA charged the county for the full cost.

In 2003, the RWSA’s water supply plan consisted of increasing storage capacity by raising the dam at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. While that plan was later abandoned, a cost-sharing allocation agreement signed that December had the ACSA paying for 73 percent of the costs of the project.

At Thursday’s meeting, ACSA board member John Martin said that agreement stated that up until then, the city had paid up to 65 percent of the costs of building the water system’s infrastructure.

“That brings home the fact that it’s our time to spend some money to contribute to the system to pay for our growth, and we recognize that,” Martin said. “We’re prepared to meet our obligations for the whole community.”

After spending an hour in closed session to discuss its negotiating strategy with respect to cost sharing, the ACSA board decided to send a letter to the City Council that emphasizes its members stand behind the approved plan.

“We are confident that together we can work out an equitable cost-sharing agreement where Albemarle County ratepayers are responsible for the full cost of county growth,” reads the letter signed by Roberts.

“The shared nature of our water system means we have to keep working together in a cooperative manner.”

Gary O’Connell, executive director of the ACSA, said the RWSA has been setting aside money for the past seven years for the water supply plan. O’Connell said the ACSA expects the plan to “have very small effects on ACSA customer rates.”

Download Download RWSA's Draft Capital Improvement Plan


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