Gauntlet thrown? County rejects alternate water sources

Sally Thomas presides over a recent meeting of the dredging task force that may or may not urge a dredging study.
PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER

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."

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• all Hook stories on the controversial water plan

13 comments

How many votes will Sally Thomas's position on the water plan cost her?

It appears to me, the county under Thomas' direction, is positioning itself to be sued regarding several high profile circumstances.

This plan may have been approved in the past by City Council and the Board of Supervisors before new information about the dam and pipeline emerged, but no water supply plan has been permitted by state or federal authorities nor has one even been submitted to them.

http://www.readthehook.com/stories/2008/05/29/NEWS-CitizensFindNoWaterPl...

These astonishingly stupid politicians must not be allowed another term, whatever it takes. We need CANDIDATES, dammit! You know - the kind that listen to and don't think they are smarter than the voters. I'm not sure such candidates exist in Albemarle County, but by God let's try to find some.

At this point, I would vote for anybody - absolutely anybody - over everybody currently on the County Board. Nobody could possibly do worse. If somebody even didn't show up for a single meeting, that would be a marked improvement.

The council as a group,Charlottesville appears to have some of the same problem. The united board, council hears during a city council meeting that most are opposed to a project. The group then votes opposite of what most, public desire. It almost seems to be a disease with the BOS and Council. For example, the Parkway is opposed by more and more, yet council continues to let the county push their agenda for the road. What is wrong? The power happy rulers thumb their noses at the folks who elected them.

The way I read the County's actions, the change to the Comp Plan does not preclude future changes to the existing water supply plan. The change merely reflected the fact that their is a new adopted water supply plan. Seems like a logical change to me.

This article is, to put it mildly, melodrama. It really seems like the Hook has a hard time sticking to straight forward, objective reporting when it comes to this issue.

I appreciate the County's hard work on this issue. I disagree with this article and think that they, and the RWSA, are working effectively towards solving this community's future water demands.

Sorry, Too many obvious errors have been made by RSWA and those who lobby for county government leaders' interests. Austin, how can you say there is effective leadership? To many eyes in the community, it looks as if they are floundering BIG TIME!.

Is Sally asleep at the wheel?

For a county that has spent millions striving for a "green label" it is very ironic they chose to destroy land, trees and waste energy pumping water uphill not to mention the disturbance putting this infrastructure in place. AND THE PRICE TAG IS NOT CHEAP!!! I wonder who Thomas & Co think will flip the bill for this +200 million dollar project? Does someone own land they want to be waterfront property?

This is one of those situations where common sense is not.

I hear that Council is interviewing candidates tomorrow for a position on the RWSA board. Mike Gaffney is trying to hold onto his place on the board, but other candidates have stepped up. Hope Council picks someone new, preferably not a developer with a financial stake in a greatly increased water supply. Anyone know who is getting interviewed tomorrow?

This action to the Comprehensive Plan shows us how useless it is in terms of defining long-term policy. The board of supervisors has once again demonstrated how they will alter the county's blueprint to suit their agenda. This should be view as very bad action on their part.

Sally's Watering Hole
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. Can you picture Ms. Thomas extolling the success of the (her) project. Another victor in a long list of water triumphs.

PS I am only kidding, or am I?