Water leak: Another group jumps ship?

rivanna reservoir aerial skip deganIf not dredged, the Rivanna Reservoir will lose 88 percent of its capacity by 2055.
PHOTO BY SKIP DEGAN

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."

32 comments

"This drought shows how useful a reservoir with a big watershed and gravity can be." All of the common sense one needs is wrapped into this one sentence.
" 'It’s incremental,' he says, 'in the sense of the dam being built and then the pipeline.' " This statement by Overrun O'Connell shows either no sense at all or a total disdain for the common sense of the people he's paid big bucks to serve.
Unfortunately for both the city and county, it appears that the Nature Conservancy is also ââ?¬Å?engineering” a storm water plan for the city : HTTP://www.dailyprogress.com/cdp/news/local/article/can_city_calm_stormw... . It seems council didn't exercise common sense in appointing a representative of the NC to that study committee. I'm sure we will be seeing more recommendations for big buck spending that do not reflect current technological developments in storm water management any better than the technological recommendations of a group led by the NC for the water supply. Maybe governance by advocacy groups is not such a great idea, either the oil cartel or environmentalists, after all. Oligarchies are not great democracies.

Throw the bums out of office !!!

Before all of the money got into this, dredging would have been the only option. We need to keep our resources for other important projects like clean energy and investment in public transportation. Tell your elected official!

No surprise at all....more water means more people. In case you haven't figured it out, not a lot of stock is put into the positions that ASAP takes. Is an organization focused on reducing the number of people (you/me) in a community really worth listening too?

Yikes and Arthur make good points.

By "smelly and expensive" I take it the consultants were talking about their bias opinion. To me what they proposed stinks! Dredging should have not even been discounted as not an option. What m o r o n s were so easily sold on the d a m n thing? Apparently those that think higher rates mean nothing and wasted energy (sending water uphill) is acceptable.

The League of Woman Voters always struck me as organization wanting to make sure decisions were based on the best available information. It is now clear that we do not have that in the case of the RWSA water proposal for our future water supply. Can anyone explain why the League has not joined with the Sierra Club and ASAP in calling for this given the new information about dredging?

Betty,

The reason is their (League of Woman Voters) representitive and chairperson to study this issue is our board of supervisor Sally H. Thomas who always supports the money mongers and big developers instead of the small farmers that make up the majority of her district. Amazing that she is still in office.

County Farmer,

Even if Sally Thomas is not interested in getting the facts about dredging for the water supply, how can she speak for the entire League? Do they all agree with the position she has taken?

Betty, Sally is not going to help this cause. She doesn't easily admit she is incorrect either. Sally is looking out for certain interests in this case. Sadly the League will probably go along with her. The League is looking as a bunch of mindless cattle playing follow the leader. The league had better step up to the plate and reel Sally in fast, and before they look like fools. By the way, where is PEC in this situation? They must be hanging out with Sally. Betty, by the way, you make us proud. Thank you for standing up to the truth.

Thanks,
One really has to wonder given the new information about dredging, and the likelihood that the pipeline connecting the South Fork and Ragged Mt. will never be built how any environmental organization or responsible elected official could stand in the way of getting the information to evalutate dredging for the water supply.

The dredging Task Force will be meeting this Monday at 6pm at the Albemarle County Office Building Room 241

One need only look at the agenda to see what a sham this is and a desperate attempt to pile on more paper and more studies to stall getting the necessary survery done so we can begin dredging to increase our water supply

Agenda availabe at rivanna.org

meant to say get the necessary surveys done do we can begin dreging for the water supply

Betty, thanks for the heads-up on the agenda. It's interesting that at this meeting the committee will only allow public comment to the issue of how the committee will hear oral public comment. Earlier, however, the committee will discuss "7:00 Further questions, suggestions for field trips, for experts to invite, etc" and make decisions without public input. I hope the public will also help address this item during the time it is allowed to speak about it's being allowed to speak at some point in the meeting. It is very important for the public to let this committee know explicitly what questions it has, what information it needs to answer these questions, and where the committee should go to get them. These people, unfortunately, know very little about providing for an adequate water supply and need a great deal of help.

Cville Eye, that is exactly why this committee has no business investigating dredging for the water supply. The necessary surveys no matter why we dredge need to be done by a company with proven dredging experience. Obviously dredging needs to be done first and foremost to increase our water supply and to improve the quality of our drinking water. Other uses for fishing and boating are secondary and exist at all water supply reservoirs throughout the country.

Does anyone think this dredging task force is anything but a stall tactic ?

"Cville Eye, that is exactly why this committee has no business investigating dredging for the water supply." This is what I tried to warn the public against when it was announced that a task force would be formed. It was never charged with studying dredging as a way of maintaining our water supply. I wanted people to pay particular attention to the choice of words. Sally Thomas said early that she was only interested in looking at dredging within the context of providing water for other community uses if anything. Here is where she and Ken Boyd intersect. I am going to start watching both of them much more closely.
I think the public can determine early in this game just who is genuinely working on behalf of the public and who is working for the Nature Conservancy and the bass fishermen by listening intently to the task force's discussion of the "Questions & Answers." They have had ample time to digest that information and to seek additional information from auxially sources in the community for their impending discussion. So far, the answers from the staff seem to lean to the shallow side.

For those who may be interested, here is a link to the RWSA's website that provides the "Questions and AnswerS" compiled at the August 12, 2008 meeting of the task force: http://www.rivanna.org/documents/steward/aug12_qanda.pdf It would be interesting to see what the follow-up is. When asked "Why would we dredge?" the response was that is what the task force is to determine. It's up to the public to help this task force answer that. The "Q&A" makes for interesting reading.

Cville Eye I appreciate the insight you have into this affair. Do you understand why our elected officials are neglecting the public good in favor of a plan that clearly favors a national agenda held by the Nature Conservancy with no consideration of the cost to this community now estimated to be over $200 million. They seem to have lobbied every available official and environmental and community group to get their agenda thru.

Why would our officials go along with this without any consideration to the cost, or interest in asking the tough questions proposed by Mr. Crutchfield in his letter to the Hook?

http://www.readthehook.com/blog/index.php/2008/05/14/crutchfield-im-no-d...

Betty, the answer lies within the area of accountability. RWSA is not accountable to either jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction's representatives are employees. Employees should not be making the decisions but helping to provide the governing board of the authority with the information necessary to make good decisions. With everything else that is on the plates of O'Connell-Mueller-Fern-Tucker, do they, in all fairness, have the time to investigate this problem to make a decent decision? The BoS and Council shoved this responsibility of providing an adequate water supply of of their tables. The same issue crops up with the jail authority. Overrun O'Connell long served as one of the city's representatives. Finally, he asked Council to allow him to assign another staff member. What's to keep this authority from voting to build a 1,500 bed complex with a fitness complex and charge the city and county accordingly? I suggest that if our elected officials do not wish to control these "authorities" then the authorities should be re-constituted with elected representatives. If we don't like their decisions, then we can vote them out. Then, there's no question that when Overrun speaks, he's speaking as the city manager and not as a water lord. We are about to embark on a transit authority with taxing powers. It's members should be subject to the vote. It would not bother me if these people are paid, either.

Thanks, that makes alot of sense.

Betty, here is an interesting link that will shed some light on the history of this thing, if you scroll down to the bottom (page 12) and start reading the few paragraphs that begin "In early 1996, an opportunity arose that would take the Ivy Creek Foundation back to its roots." http://74.125.95.104/search?q=cache:zv7v9FNXgOwJ:ivycreekfoundation.org/... . I plan to add a few comments later to make observations about the connections between some of the major players.

Cville Eye,
This should be read by everyone who cares about the environment and saving an important resource for our community. Thank you !!!

How can any environmentalist support killing over 50,000 trees in this beautiful bird habitat and wilderness area when Charlottesville has so little park land and none as beautiful or as wild as this ?

I would love to learn anything more you can share about why the 2002 plan was scrapped when it was passed by both the City and County and applauded by the community including the League of Woman Voters. The only excuse I've heard is the consultants (VHB) miscalculated the amount of water that the bladder would provide.
From what I've read that explanation is like everything else about this plan dubious.

Also, is it your understanding that the RWSA director Lawrence Tropea was forced to resign and do you know why?

"Also, is it your understanding that the RWSA director Lawrence Tropea was forced to resign and do you know why?"
Betty, I found Indie's comments at http://www.cvillenews.com/2003/06/11/tropea-resigns-from-rswarwsa/ interesting.

And, Betty, here is an extraordinary perspective on the issue of reservoir expansion that appeared in the Cville Weekly in May of 2003 talking about the difficulty of RWSA implementing a $20M repair program: http://74.125.95.104/search?q=cache:TTv0lGIELvAJ:www.c-ville.com/index.p... Stephan Bowler's report in the Spring of 2003 stated in the Executive Summary "The community iscurrently engaged in a Water Supply Project with a planning horizon of 50 years. Allindications are that SFRR will remain the dominant water source for years to come." http://64.233.169.104/search?q=cache:4kkVJb7z5CsJ:www.dcr.virginia.gov/s...
And by June of 2004, I believe, hTropea and his $20M plan was gone.

So Mr. Tropea's $20million dollar plan was too much money and in comes Gannett Fleming who we've paid over $5 million and hundreds of thousands more to other consultants and now RWSA is proposing a plan for $143 million that is certainly going to go much higher.

What happened ???

I still don't see how our elected officials can just sit silently by and let this happen: lose our largest Reservoir to siltation, destroy a magnificent natural area, build a new dam to ultimately run our only reservoir under an interstate, and lose our best source of drinking water for the City which now comes from Sugar Hollow

What are they thinking?

Talk about leaving a legacy to your children and grandchildren boy will they have a bill to pay! and we will too----

Message to Public from Dredging Task Force Chair.

Any use of the words water supply when referring to the reservoir is forbidden.

I'll bet they do everything they can to avoid holding a real public hearing about the question they were charged to answer

Why Dredge

someone might just mention the elephant in the room

After the third task force meeting http://cvilletomorrow.typepad.com/charlottesville_tomorrow_/2008/09/rese... I am getting the sinking feeling that the participants are really not up to making any kind of decision about SFRR other than a bad one.

If equal weight is not given to the rate-payers as a group that has an interest in maintaining the reservoir, and the only groups that have a voice in this are the rowers, the fishermen and any educational groups that might use the reservoir, then one has to seriously question the integrity of this task force.

The rate-payers interest is clearly in finding out if maintaining the reservoir for water supply will save money and improve water quality.

At the last task force meeting on Monday night I was told by the Chairwoman, Sally Thomas, that the question of maintaining the reservoir as a way to restore its capacity for water supply will not even be allowed to be addressed by the 13 members in their meetings.

Hopefully the members of this group who have integrity and concern for the rate-payers, and concern for a fair and just process, will not allow the questions about water supply and restoring the capacity of the reservoir and if that will save money for the rate-payers to be censored from their discussion.

Shouldn't the RATE-PAYERS ---by far the largest group in number
have their concerns addressed too ?

Sally Thomas is supposedly on this task force, not representing the BoS, but the League of Women voters. The local chapter of the LWV has obviously changed its role as a fact-finding, educational organization to that of an advocacy group. I suspect that has caused it to lose membership and created the need to accept men into its ranks. People ought to keep that in mind if LWV sponsors any campaign forums this election cycle or distributes election ââ?¬Å?educational” materials. That organization once was a tremendous asset to this community, serving as a repository of local ââ?¬Å?untainted ” information, and now its efforts in research is tantamount to that of a bunch of old crones stirring a pot of bat wings. What a disgustingly anti-intellectual stance taken in a college town.
I hope the public continues to monitor the operations of this sham and continue to evaluate the integrity of those who claim they are acting in the best interests of the public.

As a superviosr, Sally Thomas says that she would support and study of maintenance dredging and the supervisors agreed in June 2008 (http://74.125.95.104/search?q=cache:5RZ74GJ9DPsJ:www.cvilleblogs.com/ind...). In August, the first meeting of the task force is announced and that its membership has been increased to 13, with Sally Thomas, as a representative of the LWV, serving as chair. What else is Sally Thomas a member of. She is also chair of the Rivanna River Basin Commission whose representative on the task force is actually John Martin (http://74.125.95.104/search?q=cache:yzQhD6E1ym0J:cvilletomorrow.typepad....). So the Nature Conservancy and its off-shoot, the Rivanna River Basin Commission actually have 3 seats on this task force including the chair.
Sally Thomas, as a powerful member of the BoS, member of the LWV and chair of the RRBC, says "Thomas says that while contributing to the water supply through dredging remains a potential outcome, she notes that when the four water bosses got together June 30, they explicitly stated that neither the task force nor the now-postponed RFP should be allowed to delay the dam proposed for Ragged Mountain." (http://74.125.95.104/search?q=cache:ujt2JErSpQYJ:www.readthehook.com/blo...). Why do I say powerful? Sally Thomas was able to skillfully manipulate her way onto this task force and become its chair and then stifle any inquiry by her colleagues or the public as to using the SFRR as a substantial source of our water supply in the future. Or is Cville Eye looking for a conspiracy where there is none? There is something fetid somewhere around here and Sally Thomas seems to be knee-deep in it.

Cville Eye,

I don't think we should just single out the connections of one person on the Task Force. What would be helpful is if every members connections to various boards and organizations both current and past are public knowledge. That would assist everyone in understanding where the various members are coming from in their advocacy for certain results to dredge or not to dredge and for what purpose. But I do feel no possible answers to the question why dredge the reservoir should be off the table as a matter of discussion as now appears to be the case.

Unless someone calls each individual on the task force and asks, I doubt if that information is available. I'm not even sure that the appointees had to fill out an application stating his memberships. However, I found out on Charlottesville Tomorrow taht "John Martin represents the Rivanna River Basin Commission on the Task Force. He is also a member of Friends of the Moormans River and is an appointed member of the Albemarle County Service Authority Board."http://cvilletomorrow.typepad.com/. However, Mr. Martin does not set the agenda for the task force nor presides over it meetings and workflow.

That is a good point clearly the chair has more influence over the agenda and outcome and should be someone who is clearly open to All points of view. Mr. Martin at the meeting mentioned having UVA pay for dredging the portion of the Reservoir they need for their rowing program, if one extends that logic then Mr. Martin as one of the major members in Friends of the Moorman's River should suggest that they pay for a substantial part of the new pipeline cost estimated by Gannett Fleming to cost $57 million and estimated by Citizens for A Sustainable Water Plan to cost much more. I agree with Mr. Lynch's remarks in the article

"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.