Gaffney undrained: Confident water boss seeks fourth term

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, left, and RWSA chair Mike Gaffney at the late-September announcement that the centerpiece of the water plan encountered budget-busting problems.

In the six years that Mike Gaffney has chaired the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, it has discarded an old water plan, devised a new one, and claimed that dredging could cost a quarter billion dollars–- issues which have divided a community. And now he would like a fourth two-year term.

This time, however, it's Charlottesville's turn to appoint the person who simultaneously chairs the top area water board and serves as the swing vote between competing city and county interests. The five challengers include two engineers, an accountant, a tree surgeon, and Rich Collins, the man ousted to make way for Gaffney in 2003.

An environmental negotiator with the University of Virginia as well as an elected member of the Soil & Water Conservation District, Collins has recently, as an activist, tried to undo Gaffney's work. But while Collins and colleagues in a group called Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan have convinced hundreds–- perhaps thousands–- of citizens that, as their motto goes, the community should "dredge first, dam later," they haven't convinced a lot of politicians.

They've gotten Charlottesville mayor Dave Norris to fight hard to bring in dredging experts, and Norris has publicly insisted on the importance of conservation, even criticizing some of the past information (such as that Panama Canal-sized quarter-billion dredging estimate). Norris has led the City to push both a demand for dredging and a stop work order–- even facing down a room full of water-hungry county officials on November 25 to insist on getting fresh pipeline information after Gaffney declined to do so.

Despite such prodding, Norris may be reluctant to fire Gaffney or appoint anyone so openly hostile to the 50-year plan as Collins. After all, Norris notes, the County holds veto power over any nominee, and for all his efforts to amend it, the mayor still likes certain aspects of the official plan–- including increasing the flow of the Moorman's River and obtaining a reservoir that's largely impervious to siltation.

And Gaffney may feel fairly confident, as he hasn't bothered to send in a new application. Except for an updated mailing address, the one he filed in the City Clerk's office appears identical to what he submitted December 23, 2002. Therein lie some ironies.

"I agree with Mr. Tropea," Gaffney's application states, in reference to the Authority executive director who resigned five years ago. "There is a solid plan that's being implemented to address the next twenty years." (That plan focused on dredging, something that the Authority has been fighting since 2004.)

Gaffney, who did not immediately respond to telephoned and emailed requests for comment, reveals In his application that his interest in the position emerged through drought-time conversations with the Chamber of Commerce, including this question: "What is the hidden agenda behind the water shortage?"

"I hadn't known," says Collins, the man toppled after just one term to make way for Gaffney, "that that message had been communicated to the people with responsibility for making the appointment."

"That's interesting to me and disappointing," says Collins. "They obviously thought I had tried to stop growth."

Collins, an opponent of the planned Meadowcreek Parkway and a member of ASAP, or Advocates for a Sustainable Population, appears to have become a lightning rod for more controversy than someone affiliated with a growth-friendly Chamber of Commerce.

Other candidates for the the volunteer post include civil engineer and former Peace Corps voluteer Alex Foraste, tree surgeon and former neighborhood association president Michel Van Yahres, tax accountant and wildlife sanctuary board member Mary C. Huey, and engineer and retired construction executive Donald E. Sours Sr.

The person named to chair the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s Board of Directors will take office in the new year and also serves as the appointed member of the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority. City Council will hold interviews beginning at 4:30pm Tuesday December 9, when the public can watch but not comment. The City Council vote comes December 15, and the County Board of Supervisors' approval or veto will follow.


Hello Hawes,

Whatever the outcome of this selection process, I hope that citizens will attend the interviews, even if they cannot comment, so that they can assess the issues that will confront a different Chair.

Also, since the Chair requires a "concurrent appointment" from the City Council and the County Board of Supervisors, I think the City should select the candidate who it thinks would move forward a plan that would have a broad base of community support. The Chair candidates should forthrightly address the question of whether appropriate studies should be done on the dredging and demand side projections before any action is taken to build a mega-dam at Ragged Mountain. I am a member of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan and I favor that. I believe that citizens have a much clearer and complete picture of the so-called "plan" because of our efforts.

We need a change in the Chair. I look forward to the interview. There is no possible scenario that I can imagine that wouldn't include a greater minimum flow guaranteed by the State of Virginia under a revised, and quickly approved, permit. So, too with the Rivanna River from the SF dam to the Moore's Creek plant.

Rich Collins

I am not an activist on this issue, but I do try to stay informed. I find the county's stance (and Mr. Gaffney's) inexplicable in light of the information that is currently public. Something smells. ("what is the hidden agenda behind the current[water plan]?)
I also am disappointed that conservation is not a larger part of the long range plan - just like the energy independence issue in the country at large, the focus is only on how make more resources available for use. We need to use/eat/dispose/waste/pollute less of everything if we care at all for our children...

Four members of the RWSA also serve on the RSWA, Overrun O'Connell, Mueller, Tucker and Gaffney. I've noticed that the RSWA has a citizens advisory committee. The Board is supported by a Citizens Advisory Committee consisting of 3 representatives from the City, 3 from the County, 2 from the University of Virginia, and a Chairperson selected by the City Council and Board of Supervisors. The airport authority's board of three members, including Overrun and Tucker, has a Joint Airport Commission with it appears five citizens serving. Why there not a similar setup for the RWSA?
Gaffney has served to six years and has brought forth a proposal with very little data. I'm sure this is not the way he relates to his home building clients (ââ?¬Å?We'll see how much your house costs after we're finished building it.”) or he wouldn't have had more than two. This is an opportunity for Council to appoint the next chairman that will take a more analytical approach to the establishment of a true water supply plan. Six years and we are still at the concept stage. I'm sure the current board and some members of the BoS will try to pressure council in reappointing Gaffney, but council hopefully realizes that there is an ever-growing public dissatisfaction with the operations of that board and seek to revamp it.

Several of the candidates are city residents and have excellent qualifications for this position. Let's hope the city exercises wise decision making and realizes the need for a new chair who is a city resident, and will provide the outreach to the community (both city and county rate-payers), and ability to ask tough questions of the Water and Sewer Authority staff. This is a very important moment to judge the wisdom of our city leaders or lack thereof.

I agree with Betty. RWSA staff has worked hard to develop the water supply plan. Let's hope they carry it forward.

Betty, Yes we hope the city does the right thing here. I guess we'll know very soon. Thank you for all of your hard work.

"he hasn’t bothered to send in a new application"

Gaffney turned in his 2002 application supporting Tropea's plan.
How could Council accept this as a valid application for this important position?

Fellow Citizens: Below is the letter I wrote to Council. Tough times require tough decisions. I believe that Council has the ability, and potentially the determination, to withstand the county/BOS juggernaut (and all the huge development money hiding behind it). I think we can have responsible and smart growth, but it will take a lot of work. Hope everyone out there (city AND county)that has an opinion on this will let Council know what you're thinking. They are good folks. They are listening. They need our support to do this.

Dear Mayor and Councilors:

Tonight you will be asked to make a difficult decision, one that will
have a potentially serious impact on the area for years to come. In
light of all the extensive background information that has come out
regarding the existing Water Plan, I respectfully request that you
select a new chair for the RWSA Board. There will be many other hard
decisions to be made in the coming year. We simply can't do this
without complete transparency, balance, fiscal responsibility, and
strong leadership from Council, BOS, and ultimately the RWSA Board

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for looking out
for the interests of ALL of us, not solely the business and
development community. Thank you for your willingness to look at all
of the alternatives and not remain shackled to one idea for the sake
of expediency. Believe me, you are making a huge difference! As
circumstances change and new information comes forward, we must all
adapt, and you are leading the way.

As most of you know, I'm in the rather unusual position of being a
county resident who is President of a primarily city neighborhood.
Many of us in the county do not feel that the BOS represents the views
of the average citizen on the water plan, and we are looking to
Council for strong ethical leadership during this difficult time.
These are hard times, and with that comes some hard decisions. We now
have the opportunity to join the enlightened world of conservation
best practices, sustainability, and demonstrating fiscal
responsibility by using the many tools and assets already at our
disposal. Let's not squander this opportunity as we move forward.

Thanks, and all the best,

Victoria B Dunham
President, WMNA
President, Woolen Mills Road

Does anyone know what Gaffney gets paid for this position? He sure isn't making money building houses now.

Observer, Gaffney must be relying upon good old boy politics and BoS pressure.

Interesting meeting yesterday of the SFRR Task Force. Although very complicated, the description of the current plan makes a lot of sense, if you listen to the recording here....

How can a proposal that changes at any given time make sense. Now Ridge Schuyler is proposing to use SFRR 90% of the time and upload water to the Ragged Mountain dam about twenty times a year according to the link that Sam provided above. Yet, he has opposed dredging the SFRR (he's probably changed his mind on that, too)to restore its water supply capacity. Am I the only one that can see that Ridge Schuyler knows nothing about engineering a water supply plan and is obviously making it up as he goes along? The sick thing is the number of elected officials and government officials that are following his lead.

Gaffney is getting to be an old grouch. That's my opinion. He thinks he's smarter than everyone else. Fire the coach.

Gaffney must be relying on his performance as RWSA chair. You need only compare him with the previous chairman--Rich Collins. What plan did Collins get through? What experience does Collins have? None. Well, he has much experience but he doesn't tell you what it is. In the drought of 2002 he didn't tell the community his experience that there had been mandatory water restrictions before 2002--way back in 1977 when Collins was a local urban renewal official. Whatever his reason for the secrecy and lack of transparancy, the net effect is the same. Collins is an embarrassment to this community and its history. Maybe one day we'll judge people on their experience instead of what they write in their resumes.

What is so significant about a water shortage in 1977?

And why would Rich Collins need to tell us there is one? Doesn't anybody pay any attention whether we have rain or not?

And what urban renewal projects were going on in 1977.

It's pretty obvious. Collins and company's main objective is slowing growth by limiting the water supply. Their objective is to derail the current plan and provide less water for the community with a different plan.

Providing less water has never been the objective of our group. Providing the highest quality affordable water has. If you read our plan we actually provide as much water as the Gannett Fleming recommendation in one or our alternative. This is not about growth this is about cost and environmental concerns .

Please read our alternatives and see for yourself

Dredging the South Fork Rivanna back to the consultants assumed capacity actually provides more water than building the new 112' dam at Ragged Mt.

this article explains why that is true

Betty I think while your group doesn't want to limit water for growth, many others do. I think that's why some of the enviro groups signed on to the original plan. For some anti-growth folks this is part of "by any means necessary"

My compliments to your zeal and passion on this subject. I have learned much by what I read here. Mostly leading me to seek better answers.

Thank you countyguy, that's all we seek as well --better answers about the cost and feasibility of the dam, pipeline, dredging and other creative solutions. Given the dire economic situation our nation and the world is facing, like it or not the-- build it at any cost philosophy must be re-evaluated.

We need more water to make our community an economically viable region, and we need to supply it in the most economical, least environmentally damaging way for our rate-payers.

Sam, what IS obvious is that Ridge Schuyler's former proposal to cut off the pipeline from Sugar Hollow to Ragged MTn, allowing SFRR to produce less than 10 MGD, and using it to fill Ragged Mtn during an extended drought to provide 18 million gallons a day. If we have a drought as in Australia, eventually we will have less than 10 MGD. Why not study the feasibility of dredging? To see just how much SFRR can be restored to it original capacity and how large a storage basin that should be built to provide enough water for the duration of a long drought. The current proposal of only pumping water from SFRR to Ragged Mtn 20 times a year doesn't add up to 18 MGD every day of the year if you're using a silted-in reservoir.

180 acres of clear cut mature forest at Ragged Mt. ---what will that look like ---thought this reservoir would have no sediment?

How long will it take it to fill it to the top using the Sugar Hollow pipe as now advocated by Mr. Schuyler?

Typically while a dam is being constructed, the earth moving equipment prepares the basin. Trees must be felled and the stumps removed. Overburden is often removed to expose the rock outcrops for inspection. If faults are discovered, which may cause leaks, they are grouted closed. A survey of the land is conducted to document the future bottom of the reservoir.

This leaves a huge barren hole in the ground. Per Ridge Schuyler, it is to be filled with the existing gravity powered 18 inch pipeline from Sugar Hollow. The time to fill is a function of the amount of water diverted from the Moorman's River. Considering that about one month of the year the Moorman's River is naturally dry and two months of the year it has very limited flow, and that the majority of the annual water transferred is used by Observatory Hill Water Treatment Plant, and normal leakage and evaporation; it may take years to fill this new reservoir.

This brings up the ordinances for sediment containment. Typical sediment fences will not work in this contained situation. First a small pool will form in the bottom of the basin. Animals who depend on the reservoir will be forced to walk down the barren shores to drink from the small pond. At the first rain these barren shores will become muddy. It is a slick mud, I have experienced it personally, and the deer will slide to the bottom and become trapped. Within a day it is likely that hundreds of deer will accumulate as they all come to water and are trapped. Hooves will flail and splash about as they exhaust themselves. And the poor squirrels will be joining them as the mud stew gains consistency. Beaver, Muskrats and all sorts of forest creatures will also join the mix trapped by the slick muddy sides. Vultures will begin to circle and pick at the dead and dying. A putrid odor will overcome all who approach the site.

It is likely to be really really ugly.

Let your mind go wild.

PS I am only kidding, or am I?


What's so significant about a water shortage in 1977?

1. Worst drought on record. First mandatory water resrtictions. Why is historical perspective important? Why is a historical precedent relevant to the same thing happening at a later time? Why did RWSA and the Progress report in 2002 that 2002 was the worst drought and 2002 was the first mandatory water restrictions? Does history have no lessons to help us avoid repeating past mistakes?

Now you may forgive a journalist for not researching a front page story with several years lead time (1999 and 2001 were also dry). You may forgive RWSA director Larry Tropea for repeatedly saying 2002 was the worst drought on record because he had just moved here.

Here's the question: Why would an RWSA chairman with experience and first-hand knowledge of the history not tell newcomers and the new generation what that history is? No one can remember every little detail of every piece of history. But what about the big stories? Why would a self-described expert not be expected to relate his experience to his employers (the public)?

2. What urban renewal projects were going on in 1977?

Garret Square, South First Street and others. I understand it's hard to believe you can be an expert and not know the highlights of your expertise. I can only speculate why Collins didn't call the Progress and correct their front page story. What do you think was his reason? Because we had more water on hand in 2002 than in 1977 and he didn't want to explain that? Maybe. Or perhaps he smply forgot and nobody brought the memory lapse to his attention. But a citizen who had delivered the Progress in 1977 when he was 13 years old did bring it to their attention.

"The emperor has no water" Hoax, March 16, 2008, includes scanned articles from 1977 and 1972 as proof contradicting the experts.

"2007: Year of the Non-Drought", Jan. 3, 2008, includes links to my coverage of this issue beginning in 2000 when I became politically active.

I have focused on water issues because I have a B.S. in Meteorology, which is journalism-- reporting on weather and researching weather-related history. I also focused on urban renewal because I am an eyewitness and so many experts (like Collins, Huja, etc.) have perpetrated the myth that Vinegar Hill is the only urban renewal ever to occur in Cville despite massive historical documentation to the contrary.

"The Last Drought: Has Time Stood Still for 25 Years?" Sep. 3, 2002.

"Charlottesville and Albemarle County imposed mandatory water conservation August 22 for the first time in ââ?¬Å?possibly a half century.” The two ordinances were identical and took effect the next calendar day for the 80,000 customers. The maximum penalty for wasting water is $500 and water shut-off (ââ?¬Å?Water Limits Enacted,” Aug. 23, 2002, Daily Progress).

Actually, the last mandatory water conservation was 1977. The ordinances were similar and took effect immediately with the same penalties applied to the 60,000 customers (ââ?¬Å?Mandatory Water Ordinances Enacted,” Oct. 8, 1977, Daily Progress). The restrictions remained in Albemarle for 34 days and a day longer in Charlottesville.

I was a 13-year-old student at Walker Middle School, lived across from Skate Town on Market St., delivered newspapers, and was interested in weather (B.S. Meteorology 1993). Unless noted, the referenced articles appeared in 1977 from September 1 to November 11 in The Daily Progress.
Urban renewal was in full swing. There was a move to split the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority and bring Housing under direct control of City Council (ââ?¬Å?Housing Board Change Argued: Council Split,” Oct. 14). If successful, the separation of the independent agency’s two functions, property purchase (Housing) and resale (Redevelopment), might have minimized the impact of renewal.

City Council delayed discussion of the proposal and approval by the General Assembly was needed (ââ?¬Å?City Council Will Weigh Housing Authority Control,” Sep. 3; ââ?¬Å?Authority Hearing Postponed,” Sep. 30; ââ?¬Å?City Puts Off Housing Authority Shift,” Oct. 18). Today, the Housing Authority remains intact.

The mayor [Nancy O'Brien] wanted a second Elderly high-rise at the top of Vinegar Hill at then City Market, site of the old Midway School. The Authority wanted it in the ââ?¬Å?Garrett Street urban renewal area.” Housing Authority Board Chairman Richard C. Collins said ââ?¬Å?ââ?¬Ë?the benefits of home ownership’ were being exaggerated” and ââ?¬Å?ââ?¬Ë?it’s a sham’ for people to think everyone can afford to own their home” (ââ?¬Å?Price of Highrise Site Set by Council: Midway Location Chosen,” Sep. 13).

The Housing Authority came within two days of losing a $6.2 million grant ââ?¬Å?to construct a 58-unit housing project on First Street and four other smaller complexes scattered around the city” (ââ?¬Å?City Housing Grant Okayed,” Sep. 30).

CvilleEye: Just because it's easy to believe the false reality without any fact checking that the experts and politicians are relating doesn't mean I have to. I chose to do the research for free not because it was easy, but rather because it's the right thing to do. It used to be called leadership when when one person speaks the truth even when everyone else is making it up as they go along. The incredible contrast between the truth and what the experts are saying is the energy still fueling my activism on these issues.

And it will come to be known as the MartinThomasSchuyler tar pit.

Another reason not to cut down 54,000 trees in a wildlife area

Professor Ziegenfus teaches orinthology at JMU and recently gave a presentation to the Monticello Bird Club. He sent this to club members following his talk.

I have attached a pdf of the paper, I mentioned at my talk. Since there has been soooooooo much chatter on the VA-Bird about acorns. My personal feeling that people sharing their information is worthwhile. Who knows when a city, county etc might decide to cut down a few trees etc.

WHAT IS GOING ON?" posted a resident of Maplewood, New Jersey. "Now we are finding dead squirrels! SHOULD WE ALL BE CONCERNED?"

Not necessarily, naturalists say. Last year Garris reported a bumper crop of acorns, which scientists say may be one clue to this year's scarcity. Virginia extension agent Adam Downing said acorn production runs in cycles, so a lean year is normal after a year with a big crop.

"It fits with the physiology of seed reproduction. The trees are exhausted, energy wise, from last year," Downing said.

But even he is surprised at the complete absence of nuts in parts of Virginia.

"There are plenty of acorns in most of the state, but zero acorns in some pockets," he said.

Attachment converted: Macintosh HD:clotfelteretal[1][1].2007.pdf (PDF /«IC») (001A73F8)

Paper is about the relationship of acorns, rodents, and songbirds. This is only the first paragraph .

Oecologia (2007) 154:493ââ?¬â??503
DOI 10.1007/s00442-007-0859-z
Acorn mast drives long-term dynamics of rodent
and songbird populations
Ethan D. Clotfelter · Amy B. Pedersen ·
Jack A. Cranford · Nilam Ram · Eric A. Snajdr ·
Val Nolan Jr · Ellen D. Ketterson
Received: 3 February 2006 / Accepted: 29 August 2007 / Published online: 9 October 2007
© Springer-Verlag 2007
Abstract Resource pulses can have cascading eVects on
the dynamics of multiple trophic levels. Acorn mast is a
pulsed resource in oak-dominated forests that has signiWcant
direct eVects on acorn predators and indirect eVects on
their predators, prey, and pathogens. We evaluated changes
in acorn mast, rodent abundance, raptor abundance, and
reproductive success of a ground-nesting songbird over a
24-year period (1980ââ?¬â??2004) in the southern Appalachian
Mountains in an eVort to determine the relationships among
the four trophic levels.

"Blue Ridge Sand is located in southwest Virginia and maintains two reservoirs behind hydroelectric power plants on the New River. King said that Blue Ridge Sand has the experience in dredging on impounded rivers, as opposed to firms like Gahagan and Bryant whose primary experience is in dredging of coastal waterways. King, who works as a renewable energy commodities dealer, wanted community decision-makers to know that other cost estimates given for dredging are, in his experience, drastically over-inflated."