Falling water: Terrain shredding starts as consumption falls

New data show that local water consumption has fallen to near-record lows– an ironic launch for a new multi-million-dollar reservoir whose capacity may not be needed for decades.

Aerial photographs shot in early August show dozens of acres of scoured land and felled trees at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. A Charlottesville government-owned tract long leased to the waterworks for a pair of reservoirs, the site was turned over to crews from a North Carolina-based contractor earlier this year for construction of a new reservoir after plans to save the old one failed to muster political support.

A reporter's investigation last year found questionable science and potential conflicts of interest surrounding well-funded non-profit groups led by the Nature Conservancy, which parlayed million-dollar corporate sponsorships into devising the Charlottesville water plan as a national model in preserving river flows. Critics have suggested that Charlottesville will get muddier water at a higher cost.

In April, Thalle Construction of Hillsborough, NC, won the right to proceed with a $21.5 million dam. Two months later, the waterworks closed the books on a year during which total urban water production– including leaks and public use– averaged 9.45 million gallons per day. That's a 1.2 percent drop from the previous year and a twenty percent drop since water use peaked in 1999 at 11.93 million gallons per day.

During the same 13-year span, the number of customers grew by 25 percent, as there were just 25,596 urban water hookups in 1999; today there are 31,889.

The reason more customers can consume less water is a remarkable drop in per-capita consumption. Charlottesvillians have gotten so water-thrifty that even the projections produced at the behest of the key official pressing the plan, Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority director Tom Frederick, show that demand won't outstrip supply until some point approaching the year 2030.

Asked to comment on the prospect that he might have overseen a project whose urgency has evaporated, Frederick had this to say: "Our planning for future water supply need is appropriately based upon long-term forecasting."

But that view isn't shared by all citizens. A private hydrologist who unsuccessfully fought to derail the Conservancy-backed plan, Rebecca Quinn says that Frederick should have saved money and environmental havoc by relying on an existing gravity-fed pipeline instead of creating a system that's dependent on a new 9.5-mile water pipe that would become the county's third largest river.

"The continued drop in water use despite population increases," says Quinn, "is clear evidence that other motives were behind the campaign to force on us the expensive and destructive dam and uphill-pipeline scheme."

Thalle Construction estimates that the new dam will be finished in a little under two years. Construction date of the new pipeline to keep it filled remains unknown.


It may be superfluous at the moment but, the population will grow and comsumption will increase. Better to do it today than wait until we are despreate for it.

@ Richard - things are not always that simple. This may be a Gladwellian knot that proves to be a very expensive boondoggle, both financially and environmentally . Richard, have you heard of the " Norris Plan " ?

Do you have anymore aerial photos to share? It is shameful to see what they have done to the place.

Someone should be doing a documentary film on this boondoggle. There are several people in town with the know how and the equipment. If that's you, start a kickstarter campaign and let us fund you.

I second the film idea and would gladly help fund it .

A film would be great.

Make that film. This past weekend would have been such an excellent time for a walk around Ragged Mountain. (sigh)

Dude, they're gonna wipe out 90 percent of us within the decade. Population isn't gonna grow, it's already greying in America when you account for immigration and the GMO-sterilized generation haven't even begun to try to have babies yet. And that's to say nothing of the weaponized mousepox and airborne ebola they have stockpiled.

Does anyone remember Ken Boyd saying - who cares if we have too much water, we'll just sell it to neighboring communities.
Frederick, Boyd and company should have paid attention to this cautionary tale :

Harrisburg's Failed Infrastructure Project

A new incinerator was supposed to earn Harrisburg, Pa., $1 billion. Instead, it’s a cautionary tale for what happens when an infrastructure project goes bad.


Couldn't they just sell that incinerator to Nestle and make up their losses? Oh, that's right, Nestle is in the water business.

So let's tear down all the dams that were built including the two old ones at Ragged, the sugar Hollow Dam and the South fork dam. They must have all been economic and environmental catastrophes. OR maybe they hold the water that allows you to live here. How many bloggers had family here in 1885 when Ragged Dam number 1 was built? Everyone who came after should have built a well or drank rain water, right?

I think its perfectly logical to expand Ragged mountain's water supply. Given a choice, its better than damming up the South Fork environmentally. Do you folks who claim to want environmental protection think its wiser to keep the main river dammed and pay every 20 years to dredge a naturally sedimented river (Jefferson even noted how islands of sand form in the Rivanna, so it ain't from construction) or maybe to keep building on the one we started over 120 years ago? Ragged mountain would still be a privately owned clear-cut cow farm with no trees and no lake to walk around if you had your way, and then where would you be walking and what lake would you miss so much? Ragged Mountain is already a very UN-natural environment as lakes don't typically grow a the top of a mountain. Its also much closer to town and doesn't impact any major streams.

That said, its also a beautiful spot, mostly because of the lake, which will get bigger (and therefore more beautiful?). We've got thousands of acres of forested mountains around, the lake is what makes it special, and man made the lake, he's just making it a bit bigger now.

Do you pay water bills Anthony ? We had plenty of water for decades without this dam and this scheme is based on using the sediment filled water from South Fork and pumping it uphill to the new reservoir at Ragged Mt. An environmental disaster when you factor in the carbon footprint, loss of a mature forest, and no one knows the cost of this electricity driven river climbing uphill over 10 miles .

This entire plan was a boondoggle from the beginning and has nothing to do with our need for water now or in the future, there were far better, less costly , less environmentally damaging ways to do that.
Unfortunately, the pushers of this plan were by and large; wealthy, well connected politically, didn't represent the ratepayers, but got their way - a sad day for our community

If only we had heeded Bill Crutchfield's advice :
( and now after years of telling us that dredging South Fork was not feasible - they plan to dredge, but not for water supply )

April 28, 2008

Hawes Spencer
Editor and Publisher
The Hook
100 Second Street, N.W.
Charlottesville, VA 22902

Dear Hawes:

I want to compliment you for writing and The Hook for publishing the April 3rd and April 24th articles on the controversy surrounding the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority's proposed $143 million water plan. You raised some very important issues which the community needs to understand.

Since the beginning of this debate, I have felt that it is a mistake not to dredge the South Rivanna reservoir. Furthermore, my instincts have been extremely uncomfortable with the concept of enlarging the Ragged Mountain dam and connecting the Ragged Mountain and South Rivanna reservoirs with a 9.5 mile pipeline.

I must preface my remarks by saying that my opinions are based on what I have read in the media and have heard in the community. I have not been privy to any of the technical discussions that officials of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, City of Charlottesville and County of Albemarle have had regarding this subject. Nevertheless, it appears that the decision makers may have failed to ask the types of questions that prudent businesspeople ask when making tough decisions. Here are seven questions that initially come to my mind:

Why did the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority seek a cost feasibility study for dredging from only one consultant? They hired a consultant, Gannett Fleming, to determine the cost of dredging. Their estimate was $145 million. However, other parties believed the cost would be significantly less. A dredging contractor was willing to do it for $21 million–- 85% less. Under these circumstances, prudent businesspeople would have commissioned at least one other cost study.

Was it a conflict of interest for Gannett Fleming to provide an estimate for dredging and be asked to design the dam? The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority asked Gannett Fleming to compete for the design of the Ragged Mountain dam.

Obviously, if dredging was determined to be a good option, there may not have been a need to design a dam. As it turned out, Gannett Fleming was awarded a $3.1 contract for dam design. Prudent businesspeople would have seen this situation as a potential conflict of interest. They would have commissioned a dredging feasibility study from a firm or firms that did not have a vested interest in the Authority's decision not to dredge.

What is the professional qualification of the Nature Conservancy for developing this plan? Apparently, an official with the Nature Conservancy devised it. According to its website, the Nature Conservancy's mission is "to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive." The Nature Conservancy performs this mission admirably. However, designing municipal water systems is not one of their core competencies. Prudent businesspeople would not have based a decision on a plan developed by an organization that did not have the appropriate expertise and experience.

Did the Nature Conservancy understand the full environmental impact of their plan? It has been reported that their plan calls for clear cutting 54,000 trees over 180 acres. Apparently, the Sierra Club now understands the plan's impact and is withdrawing its endorsement of it. Prudent businesspeople would have understood all aspects of a plan before adopting it.

How much money will local water customers pay and how large is the carbon footprint for the incremental electricity production? Little has been said about the energy needed to pump enormous quantities of water through a 9.5 mile pipeline and then up a small mountain. Prudent businesspeople would factor the financial and environmental costs of a plan that requires the use of so much electrical energy.

Has anyone in the decision-making process looked for creative as opposed to consultant-packaged, generic solutions? The best decisions are often based on creative, non-conventional ideas. For example, there is an abandoned stone quarry within walking distance of the South Rivanna reservoir's dam. It may be possible to buy the quarry and pump sediment into it. The dewatering of the sediment might occur naturally–- the sediment would sink to the bottom and the water could be pumped off the top. Another non-conventional idea would be to buy the low-lying, river-front land that includes the old UVa polo field. Because it is in the Rivanna River's flood plain, this land probably has no development potential. Sediment could be pumped the short distance to it for drying and future sale. Prudent businesspeople would explore creative solutions like these.

What are the long-term ramifications of not dredging? Eventually, the reservoir would fill with sediment and become a giant swamp. If that were to happen, the public would demand a complex and costly remediation. Prudent businesspeople would consider long-term issues like this one.

Although the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority's water plan may be flawed, I do applaud them for attempting to find a long-term solution for our water needs. As I understand it, if the South Rivanna reservoir is completely dredged, our water system would revert back to the capacity that it had 40 years ago. Obviously, we need to find ways to increase our water capacity. This goal is especially important considering the possibility of a reduction in average rainfall as a result of climate change.

As the Authority moves forward with its future planning, I hope that they learn to ask the right questions.


William G. Crutchfield, Jr.


Still hoping someone makes the movie and here's all the research you need :


So Nancy, where did the perfect mount of water come from that we had before we made this dam bigger? It came form the first three dams we built, which must have been glorious examples of perfect environmentalism from your point of view.Obviously nothing was destroyed, flooded, or clear cut to make the first three dams, right? My point is that none of our water supply areas are perfectly natural, and I don't understand why everyone has to say Ragged mountain is being DESTROYED this time. If your logic is that dams destroy things, then Ragged mountain was destroyed years ago, so what are we saving? Why save South Fork reservoir when it destroyed a whole village called hydraulic mills? Shouldn't we bring the village back?

You can't say its was great before today when this exact same process has already happened twice at Ragged Mountain. And how can you say that a water supply plan has nothing to do with water supply? I do pay water bills, I have a rain barrel that I use for my plants, and I hike at Ragged Mountain and Sugar Hollow. And I am not screaming that the sky is falling this time around when I know that if people hadn't built the first 3 dams, I wouldn't have had that water to drink for the past 20 years I've lived here. I accept that a City is not primarily a forest, its a city that needs water, roads, houses, sewers, etc. I agree that we should conserve resources when possible, but we also have to have use them, and Ragged mountain to me is a beautiful place to get water from if we have to have water.

So what is your plan that is so perfect and uses no land, power, chemicals, pipes, or tax money to gather and distribute huge volumes of water to a population of 100,000 or so. Should we all just do a barefoot raindance whenever we are thirsty? Which of the three dams do you think is the most sustainable? To me, they all look about the same.

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