Gauntlet thrown? County rejects alternate water sources
Albemarle just made a move to remove two of the community's more promising alternate water sources and–- like a glove in the face of the City Council which just called for a halt–- reaffirm its support for a controversial dam/pipeline scheme. The action came Wednesday, December 3 via a unanimously-passed amendment to the County's Comprehensive Plan.
"I think it's extremely short-sighted, but it's consistent with what we've seen since 2004 to remove good options and stick with this bad one," says former City Councilor Kevin Lynch.
Ironically, the amendment's staff report offers no mention of either the two axed sources, Chris Greene Lake and the planned Buck Mountain Reservoir. But supporting documents, already endorsed by the Albemarle Planning Commission, clearly show them on the chopping block and show the County intends to stick with a planned mega-reservoir under Interstate 64, a concept some consider a sinking ship–- or a "bridge to nowhere."
County Supervisors, however, don't see it that way. Nor do they see their latest move as a thrown gauntlet.
"Absolutely not," says Supervisors chair Ken Boyd. "It just reflects the current reality of our 50-year plan as approved."
Boyd says that in a big 2005 round-table meeting [PDF] regulators convinced him that the proposed Buck Mountain Reservoir would fail to win their approval. ("I was one of the last stalwarts holding out for that option," Boyd adds.)
More recently, however, other options have arisen, including an alternate plan submitted in May by a group concerned by the fiscal and environmental impacts of a planned reservoir and a semi-planned pipeline.
Yet, despite repeated urgings–- including hundreds of petitions, a key green group, a business magnate, and support from six City neighborhoods–- to dredge the community's main existing reservoir as part of a more conservation-minded "soft plan" outlined by the County's own top water official, the Supervisors made their move Wednesday as part of their so-called "Consent Agenda," a list of items deemed so uncontroversial that they don't get their own public hearing on vote day.
In this case, however, controversy swarmed the amendment on its originally planned vote November 12. With seven citizens speaking out then against the move (two spoke for it), County Supervisors agreed not to rush anything that might antagonize the City of Charlottesville just two weeks prior to a massive four-party water meeting.
Back in 1983, the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority bought several hundred acres of land in Free Union for a planned $107 million lake as the community's long-term water salvation. But the project encountered the discovery of Albemarle's own version of the Spotted Owl, Pleurobema collina, a tiny mollusk commonly known as the James River Spinymussel.
UVA professor John Wheeler, however, thinks Charlottesville should flex some spine and muscle of its own. For starters, Wheeler notes that the waterworks, the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority, merely leases the existing reservoirs from their owner, the City of Charlottesville.
Wheeler, a city resident and lawyer, thinks that the Rivanna Authority risks violating the lease terms, particularly the requirement that it must "maintain all dams and water production facilities at these reservoirs."
In what Wheeler sees as open defiance, the Authority has revealed that it has budgeted no money in its 50-year water plan to maintain any of the urban system's three existing reservoirs despite the Authority's own admission that the Rivanna Reservoir, the largest and most siltation-prone, will shrink to just 12 percent of its current size.
"We own that reservoir, and we own that water," says Wheeler, noting that the City can reclaim its property in the year 2012.
Authority director Tom Frederick, however, has officially maintained the support of all County and City leaders, and he stands by his 50-year plan as the best way to ensure ample supply for a community that hunkered down into water restrictions during a devastating drought nearly seven years ago.
As for Chris Greene, it is a 60-acre recreational lake near the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport that a group called Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan considers a ready-made backup during a severe drought. Since autumn is both the time when swimming ceases and when household water needs intensify after a dry summer, the group sees Chris Greene as an ideal backup. Not County officials.
"You need another impoundment," Albemarle Supervisors' chair Ken Boyd told the four-party meeting November 25. However, in an interview several days later, he hinted that a new pipeline engineering study authorized at that confab might lead to an altered water scheme. He also downplayed his board's recent amendment.
"It doesn't mean that things might not change," said Boyd. "It reflects what's been going on, but that could change based on the engineering and other reports."