Fish jump: but red herrings filleted at dredge test
After years of talk, someone has finally taken action on dredging a water body in Albemarle County. Only it wasn't a County citizen; it was Charlottesville resident and City Council candidate Bob Fenwick.
"This is not rocket science," said Fenwick September 4, on the shore of Loch Leigh, a private lake in the West Leigh subdivision. "This is engineering, and this is a basic application of mechanical equipment," he said.
A former member of the Army Corps of Engineers, the folks who oversee many of the world's biggest dredging operations, Fenwick has turned his sights to what might be the world's smallest dredging operation.
"This is what should have been done," said engineer-builder Fenwick, as he readied a four-horsepower, motorized pump, "and what will be done in the future."
Fenwick expressed hope that West Leigh residents might consider hydraulic dredging to restore their formerly emerald green lake, whose western end has lost at least an acre of surface area and become a distinctly chocolate-brown puddle.
Just after 10:15am Friday, Fenwick pulled the starter cord, and the dual-diaphragm Koshin mud pump–- $65/day from Central Virginia Rental–- hummed to life.
Instantly, opaque water glugged out of the end of a three-inch pipe. As mud settled at the base of a set of straw bales and plastic, cleaner water–- relatively, at least–- flowed back toward Loch Leigh.
"That, my friends, is dredging," Fenwick said triumphantly. "If you have auxillary pumps, you can pump a long way."
Fenwick said he wanted to show lake-losing neighborhoods how to prevent a safety hazard as mucky bio-materials create a potentially dangerous shoreline entrapment situation.
"This is as close to quicksand as Virginia has," said Fenwick. "If I were to walk out five feet, I'd probably get back, but I'd lose my shoes."
Fenwick's larger purpose was demonstrating the simplicity of dredging the Rivanna Reservoir, a 43-year-old water body that may eventually lose 80 percent of its capacity without a dredging operation. (Fenwick says dredging the Rivanna would require a larger device such as the Mud Cat brand of barge-mounted hydraulic dredges.)
"There are cutterheads," explained Fenwick, "that will take a stump that's been underwater for 43 years."
If he's right, that would destroy one of the arguments backers of the Nature Conservancy's competing water supply proposal have been using: that the stumps of the trees felled in 1966 for the reservoir would create an insurmountable obstacle.
Another potential obstacle mentioned Friday several times by one non-profit-based journalist was the alleged difficulty of gaining government permits.
"That's a red herring," says Richard Lloyd. Though not present at Friday's test, Lloyd is an engineer who has recently begun speaking out against the Conservancy's plan. Although it won support of both local governments, Lloyd believes the Conservancy's dam/pipeline scheme will end up costing over $200 million–- a prospect he contends would triple household water bills.
West Leigh resident, landscape business veteran, and candidate for County Supervisor Duane Snow learned about the test afterwards. Snow is on record supporting the Conservancy's controversial dam/pipeline water plan, but he said he welcomes the dredging test.
"I think it's great," said Snow, "because if someone can produce in the next few months evidence that it will give us the same amount of water–- which I don't think is possible–- then I would sign off on it."
Snow also likes something else that Fenwick said: that choosing a dredge consultant before getting the price may not be a brilliant idea. The local waterworks learned to its chagrin last month that, HDR, the dredge consulting firm that some were hoping to hire for around $275,000, now wants nearly $700,000. That's to study a reservoir whose volume was measured in 2002.
"People have an idea that as long as we're doing studies, then we're making progress," said an exasperated Snow. "If I operated my business like that, I'd be out of business."
Watching all the action was a gaggle of geese that alighted near the dredge site, shortly after a couple of fish made pirouettes above the water. Another viewer was well-known historian and radio host Coy Barefoot.
Barefoot, who lives along the shrinking lake, agreed to let his forested yard serve as the test site and filtering zone. He says he now can barely get his canoe in the water–- due to all the muck.
"My neighbors and I," said Barefoot, "are looking at a lake that's silting in, and I saw this as a good way to learn more about dredging as an option."