Pipe dream: Mega-reservoir tied to moribund Bypass
Tom Frederick, the head of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority has never publicly revealed that his wished-for mega-reservoir in the Ragged Mountain Natural Area won't work without a pipeline to fill it. But a memo prepared for him does.
The memo, recently obtained by a band of water watchers through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that without the pipeline the planned reservoir–- now in turmoil over a price tag which may hit $100 million and push the total project over $200 million–- would provide a small fraction of its promised water and just one fifth of what would be supplied by simply dredging the community's main reservoir.
According to engineering firm Gannett Fleming, dredging the existing Rivanna Reservoir–- an officially dismissed but increasingly popular alternative–- would supply five million gallons per day. A pipeline-less reservoir, by contrast, bolsters today's water capacity of 12.8 million gallons per day by just 1.1 million to just 13.9 million gallons per day, according to a memo by Amanda Hess of the same firm.
"I know that, at first glance, that might not seem correct," writes Hess. "Without the pipeline to fill the reservoir and with the treatment capacity issues prior to the pipeline," she writes, "the volume is simply not as 'efficient' as it will be in 2055."
In other words, the dam can't work. It's trapped in a natural bowl without a river to replenish it.
And the pipeline, despite being only at the concept stage, already has some eyebrow-raising flaws. For starters, the budget for obtaining land easements along its 9.5-mile route is just $249,000. Frederick had hoped to gain free easements by piggy-backing the majority of the route along a planned road: the Route 29 Western Bypass.
Blasted as Charlottesville's own road to nowhere for failing to actually bypass much local traffic, the $270 million Bypass is unfunded, and when we checked in with the traffic planners, most agreed that because it's unlisted on all local wish-lists it will remain just a dream.
"There's a lot of questions in this community about whether a roadway will ever get built in that corridor," Frederick conceded at his September 22 board meeting, "and trying to use that corridor may not be the right answer. In fact, we tend to think it's not the right answer if a roadway will never get built."
Although the pipeline remains integral to the reservoir, Frederick, at the same meeting, indicated that he's in no hurry to supply an alternate path.
"There is no design work for the pipeline right now," Frederick told his board. "I'm certainly much more focused on getting the dam."
Later in the meeting, board chair Mike Gaffney indicated that hiring a panel of experts for the dam takes precedence. "I would rather," Gaffney said of the pipeline, "discuss that at the next meeting."
But the Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan couldn't wait. They issued a statement expressing their fears that the Water Authority "has no idea of the actual location or the actual cost" of the pipeline, an allegation Frederick seemed to confirm–- at least in part–- during the meeting. "There is," he admitted, "no specific, defined corridor that is exact that someone could review."
Citizens member Kevin Lynch, a former Charlottesville vice-mayor, slams the pipeline's proposed $56 million cost as a "back-of-the-envelope" guess. Lynch notes that documents show zero budget for chemicals, zero for maintenance, and zero for personnel to maintain the pumphouse and pipe of an uphill waterway that would–- overnight–- become Albemarle County's third largest river, requiring the electrical equivalent of burning about 1,000 tons of coal annually.
"You all are well aware that the dam won't work without the pipeline," Lynch told the Rivanna board last week. "It's time to admit that you have no business making decisions. We need a new plan, and a new board."
Board member Robert Tucker said that the five-member body has the full support of the two governments that appointed it, the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
Indeed, Charlottesville mayor Dave Norris notes on his blog that creating this system might augment flows of the Moormans River, a state scenic waterway in the White Hall area, which currently supplies water into the urban system.
Albemarle supervisor Dennis Rooker has likewise reaffirmed his support for the project. He says he's less worried about finding a pipeline route than recent cost revelations.
"Personally," says Rooker, "I'd like to see harder numbers on the costs of the various components. I would not like to find out that the pipeline costs twice as much after we've already built the dam."
After the Authority meeting, which was dominated by the fiasco of learning that the planned $37.2 million dam might turn out to be a $99 million dam, Lynch said he noticed that before Gannett Fleming was hit with a stop-work order, the company issued a report whose cost-cutting measures include re-evaluating all pipeline costs. That wasn't all Lynch spotted in the report.
Gannett Fleming, the engineering company that once scared local officials with anti-dredging visions including near non-stop noise, a never-ending convoy of mud-laden trucks, and an infamous over-$223 million price tag, was suggesting that one option might be.... dredging.
–last updated 1:17pm September 30