Water leak: Another group jumps ship?
Like the Sierra Club before it, a group once cited as a key backer of the official local water supply plan is now backing away from orthodoxy and demanding a full study of dredging. And the group, ASAP, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, wants the dredging studied before pouring any more money into what critics fear could be a $143 million water boondoggle.
"It's certainly a reasonable position," says former Charlottesville vice-mayor Kevin Lynch, who foresees further erosion of support for the so-called 50-Year Water Project, a controversial uphill pipeline-dam combo crafted by a firm allowed to steer a $3.1 million dam design contract to itself and downplay dredging as smelly and expensive.
Revelations uncovered this year by the Hook and by a group which counts Lynch as a member, called Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply, raised concerns about the work of Gannett Fleming, the Pennsylvania-based engineering firm entrusted with carrying out a water supply plan devised in the wake of the 2002 drought.
Besides abandoning the 2002 water supply plan with the apparent approval of the unelected, five-person waterworks board, Gannett Fleming would claim that dredging the Rivanna Reservoir might cost over $223 million, an amount higher than a recent contract to widen the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. And then, instead of repairing or expanding the Ragged Mountain dam, the company insisted that Ragged Mountain must get a new $37 million, 112-foot-tall dam.
Besides the change-of-heart offered by ASAP and the Sierra Club, there's been another modification from the list of groups that local governments touted as water plan supporters when they launched an advertising blitz to shore up public support in April. An eco-lobbying group called Citizens for Albemarle no longer exists, Marshall says, and its assets have been liquidated.
Following a late-August meeting and a flurry of post-meeting emails, ASAP's 13-member board agreed to demand dredging for water supply "in light of new information."
"Our initial support," says ASAP leader Jack Marshall, "was premised on the belief that the water supply would be enlarged incrementally."
Longtime 50-Year Water Project supporter Gary O'Connell said he wouldn't necessarily see the move by ASAP as evidence of eroding support because he hasn't learned what prompted it.
But as for the claim that the water supply would be enlarged incrementally, O'Connell has an answer. "It's incremental," he says, "in the sense of the dam being built and then the pipeline."
Project critic Lynch, however, contends that the pipeline will probably never get built because he contends it will cost far more than the $60 million envisioned by the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority. Already, one of the key foundations of the pipeline–- that electricity cost will rise by just 50 percent in 50 years–- received a jolt earlier this year when Dominion Virginia Power spiked electric rates 18 percent before the pipeline has broken ground.
The Citizens group believes that dredging the Rivanna Reservoir, combined with using some other lakes during extreme droughts, could supply all the water Albemarle needs.
Aside from Gannett Fleming, estimates to dredge the Reservoir range from $24 million in a turn-key concept offered by a prominent local firm to as much as $30 million from a nationally recognized dredging consultant brought in to City Council by Mayor Dave Norris.
And yet no elected politician has yet done what the Sierra Club, the three most recently departed City Councilors, and now ASAP have done: demand a look at dredging not for aesthetics or for college rowers but for water supply.
Lynch notes that August was on track to be the driest ever, and that with July not much wetter, the Rivanna Reservoir was facing a four-foot deficit, which was erased with a single rain event: the 4.37" that began falling on Wednesday, August 27
"That's the big advantage of the reservoir that we have. We almost had a record-dry August, and we're back to capacity with one rain event. This drought shows how useful a reservoir with a big watershed and gravity can be."