New view? Supe-elect Thomas eyes water plan for ax

news-rodneythomasThomas refused to sign Palmer's anti-dredge pledge.

In a first for a key official in Albemarle, Supervisor-elect Rodney Thomas–- who refused to sign a campaign-time pledge to support the controversial $200 million water plan propounded by the Nature Conservancy–- indicated on Coy Barefoot's WINA radio show November 6 that he's willing to modify or kill the plan due to the County's dire financial straits.

"We don't have the money," said Thomas, who, along with fellow Republican victor Duane Snow campaigned on the idea of "zero-based budgeting," i.e. starting from zero and taking no spending for granted.

Thomas revealed his thinking November 6 in an unplanned telephone call to the program after Barefoot wondered aloud how frugal the new Supervisors would be.

"We need to buckle down and be conservative with our pennies," opined Thomas, recalling his refusal to sign the plan-supporting pledge. "To me it wasn't a plan; it wasn't set in stone."

Some folks wanted it set in stone–- or actually set in millions of tons of concrete. Two appointed members of the Albemarle County Service Authority, Don Wagner and Liz Palmer, were circulating the pre-election pledge to their would-be bosses, and Thomas notes that Palmer, in particular, seemed "determined" to get his signature endorsing the controversial Conservancy plan to create a single mega-reservoir. He stood firm.

While Palmer defends the pledge as "completely appropriate" for what she calls "a great plan," Charlottesville officials, such as Mayor Dave Norris, have long expressed plan dissatisfaction–- even standing up to career bureaucrats and County-dominated boards to block dam construction until certain conditions get met.

Yet Thomas' radio remarks mark the first break in County unanimity on the plan, which critics have faulted for household cost and environmental destruction. Supporters say it will renew aging infrastructure and help the Moormans River.

Thomas's opponent in Rio District Supervisor races was David Slutzky, who raised the most money, who aligned himself with the plan, and who has been serving as the Chairman of the Board. He joined fellow Democrat Madison Cummings, the protege of retiring reservoir-backing Supervisor Sally Thomas (no relation to Rodney), in going down to defeat.

Both pledge propounders, Palmer and Wagner, will see their seats up for renewal in January, and Rodney Thomas–- who holds all the appointment power for Wagner's seat–- says in a recent interview he plans to advertise for applicants. Informed of this by telephone, Wagner says he won't submit an application for reappointment.

"If he'd like me," says Wagner, "I'm happy to serve, but I don't plan to apply."

The person in charge of Palmer's seat is Duane Snow, who says, "Liz Palmer's definitely not out of it, but I am running an ad through the County, so I can see who's out there and what their qualifications might be."

A potentially far more powerful board, the one with the power over the Conservancy plan, is the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority. There, the leader of the pro-plan/anti-dredging movement, Sally Thomas, will lose her seat December 31 when she retires as a County Supervisor. So the newly reconstituted Supervisors must choose her replacement from amongst themselves at the year's first Supes meeting on January 6.

Rodney Thomas points out that, with his power to influence the water authorities limited to board appointments, his primary budgetary role will remain with the County government, which recently revealed a $5.7 million deficit.

"I'm absolutely petrified about the money situation," he says.

–last updated 11:14am, November 17 with quotes from Snow, Wagner, and Palmer

Read more on: dredgingrodney thomas


There is an interesting article in today's DP about the direction the newly elected Republican Supervisors want to take the board. Now that we have elected representatives on both the RWSA board and the RSWA board--I hope-- they will ask questions about the massive amounts of wasted money occurring at both these agencies to pay for consultants, who with the board members support, have not produced a single drop of additional water, but have overseen the loss of water capacity for our community in failing to maintain the South Fork and Sugar Hollow Reservoirs. The enormous fees paid to lawyers both at the RWSA, and now at the RSWA, in suing a private community businessman, should be high on their agenda as questions, that need answers, to protect their constituents from wasteful spending.

Sanity at last. Thank You Mr. Thomas

Maybe now we will have someone in the County, along with Mayor Norris, the Sierra Club, and Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, demanding that we get an independent assessment of this whole concept. This community cannot support $250 million dollars of debt for a $200-300 million dollar water plan. Any other city our size, looking at this, would be incredulous that we are even considering this. Thank you Mr. Thomas for being willing to ask the hard questions that have gone unasked from other county officials.

I hope you will lead the Board and heed the advice of Mr. Crutchfield in his letter to the Daily Progress:

" I strongly believe that, if our current City Councilors and Board of Supervisors members approve a water plan, they should be held accountable for their decision. In order to be accountable, they need to identify where this future pipeline is going, who is going to be impacted and how much it is going to cost. To ensure accountability, they should start the process of acquiring land for the pipeline as soon as practical. They should not pass a political ââ?¬Å?hot potato” to future councilors and supervisors."

Supporters say it will renew aging infrastructure and help the Moormans River.

I found this at the link in this article. What do the dam supporters have to say about this ?

"The Community Water Plan will "save" the Moormans River "
The Moormans River does not need saving. Only about a quarter of its volume is drawn for water on average each year.

In Rivers for Life, Brian Richter of The Nature Conservancy embraces the Tennant Method that states that " to sustain "optimum" biological conditions, 60-100 percent of a river's average flow needs to be protected. But to provide "excellent habitat;' only 30-50 percent of the flow might be needed."

"The plan restores natural stream flows to the Moormans River."
The Moormans River is a small and "flashy" waterway, which means it vacillates widely from a very high flow in storm events to very low, in the summertime. The water plan will release water into the Moormans from the Sugar Hollow dam in times when it would naturally be dry, an ecologically disastrous practice, in stark contradiction to "Rivers for Life" in which they say, if you need to transport water from a dam.... PIPE IT.

Listen: Liz Palmer talks about plans to release water from SH.
From Rivers for Life, pp 154-5

A TNC research team looked at water management systems where water was released from a dam to run downriver to a catchment. The Nature Conservancy scientists believed that the flow alterations associated with the dam were causing serious problems for the river's mussels and fish, reduced critical riffle habitat in the riverbank. In particular, they were concerned about the autumn transitions. During a time when the river's flow would naturally have been low, prolonged, out-of-season high flows were harmful to fish spawning and mussel reproduction occurring during this time, perhaps even flushing some mussels and small fish downstream.

Why are we paying $200 million dollars for this ? If you support this plan please explain. I would like to see a debate attended by all our elected officials to get these issues more into the public sphere. Perhaps the Sorenson Institute could be the sponsor.

Could it be a sane politician who can add. We're counting on you Rodney, don't disappoint us. Charlottesville is one of the most expensive places to live in Virginia, and if you care about economic development and bringing jobs and businesses to our community you will not burden us with higher water and sewer rates, and a huge debt for unneeded new infrastructure. I hope your mantra and others on the board becomes, now that we are spiraling into a downward trend of money in our coffers, maintain , maintain, maintain the assets we have . Dredge the reservoirs and repair ( maintain) the dams we own!

Sorry to keep writing.

But could it be that two businessmen have been added to the BOS. Now they understand what a great deal they have? Three reservoirs for a $1 per year. Essentially free water that will be more than enough for decades to come at currently projected growth.

Only a fool would turn that down to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a high risk project!

So lets see what happens as they appoint ACSA commissioners.

The county is becoming more responsible with its citizens money. Now if City council would realize that they need no more water for at least 50 years, then they may also understand that paying anything for the proposed Community Raw Water Plan is just throwing away money.

Why has it ever been an option to remove a dam that is owned by Charlottesville and served this community for so many years? Maintain it!!!

Why has it ever been an option to allow RWSA to not maintain the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir? Charlottesville owns it and leases it to RWSA and the lease requires that it be maintained as a water impoundment!!!

Why has it ever been an option to decommission the Sugar Hollow Pipeline? Maintain it!!!

Sugar Hollow Reservoir also has had a landslide and nobody is even talking about removing the rock and sand that went into the reservoir. Maintain it!!!!

If any of these assets which are owned by the City of Charlottesville, and leased to RWSA for $1, are lost, then we have a problem. Maybe that is the real reason some in the community are attacking their condition.

Just start maintaining what we have. It will accommodate decades of projected growth as shown by the RWSA's own existing studies.

Over 12 million spent on consultants without a drop of water, as documented in this article. If one goes back to pre Gannett Fleming and the money spent on consultants to prepare the 2002 plan; a plan with a signed contract, agreed to by both the county and city-- to dredge and put a bladder on the South Fork Reservoir, this amount would be much higher.

If we had proceeded with that plan under Mr. Tropea, then director of the RWSA, we would have decades of water today and be in a far better position to plan for the future at a time when our citizens are suffering. Water rates were doubled to pay for the 2002 plan, and nothing was done, but to stock pile money and pay consultants and lawyers.

Mr. Thomas and Mr. Snow you have your work cut out for you and the affordability of this entire region for your citizens and businesses, who pay water and sewer bills , is at stake. Bringing new business to our area must be a priority, but the cost of water and sewer for those businesses and for the citizens must be a factor. Don Wagner likes to say growth pays for itself. I say show me the facts.

How much growth would our community need, in the next 10 years, to support $250 million in debt for the RWSA plan not even considering the new sewer infrastructure ?
What will the monthly water and sewer bills be for the citizens and businesses ? We need you as fiscal conservatives to provide answers to these questions .