Albemarle to water authority: Study dredging

Albemarle supervisors have either just taken a step toward turning a $143 million water supply project into an approximately $170 million water project, or they're setting the stage to derail the controversial Ragged Mountain mega-reservoir. They voted last night, without discussion, to join the Charlottesville City Council in pushing the local waterworks to study dredging and conservation.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, it appears to be another rebuke to the waterworks, which advanced a $143 million, 50-year water supply project that provided not a cent for dredging–- despite its own studies that showed the main reservoir shrinking during that time to just 12 percent of original capacity.

"I'm extremely pleased," says Keith Rosenfeld, a Barracks Road businessperson who recently joined Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply, the group of mostly ex-officials who claim the public has been misled by a Pennsylvania firm allegedly so tempted by the prospect of a $3.1 million dam design contract that it overstated the cost of dredging by a factor of nearly ten.

While the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority stands by its embattled consultants, the resolution demands that the Authority commission a study of the Rivanna Reservoir "as a valuable water resource for the long term future benefit of the community."

That board chair Ken Boyd placed the resolution on the board's "consent agenda"– the pile of routine and/or non-controversial items voted upon in bulk– signals a possible shift for this governing group. Only a month ago, at a public meeting, the six-member body conducted an informal poll among themselves, and all six vowed their support for the $143 million project despite its reliance on uphill water pumping and a reservoir that would abut Interstate Highway 64.

The consultants, Pennsylvania-based Gannett Fleming, have contended that dredging might cost over $223 million, while various private businesses–- despite the absence of any formal request by the Authority–- have estimated that the job would cost $21-30 million.

According to coverage by watchdog group Charlottesville Tomorrow, Supervisor Sally Thomas, a former dredging supporter turned opponent, recently attempted to persuade her colleagues to name a specific goal of dredging by appointing a "visioning group" to weigh in on the issue.

"I'm not sure I want to dredge at all," Thomas was quoted as saying. Leaving open the possibility that dredging might actually chip away–- or even fulfil–- the projected supply deficit, last night's resolution declined to limit the study.

So attention returns to the Rivanna Authority, whose leadership has now been second-guessed by both local governments. The Authority board, which next meets June 23, not only sits on a trove of approximately $30 million in profits accumulated from water rate increases enacted over the past six years, but it also has $300K set aside for such studies.

"We'll be able to get an accurate bid, and that's what's important," said hopeful citizen Sam Freilich. "How much is sand, how much is silt, and how much is gravel? It has significant commercial value."

Freilich was among seven people speaking in favor of the measure last night; none opposed it. And even though the proposed mega-reservoir would bring the sparkling waters of Ragged Mountain closer to his home, Freilich says his concern is the environmental damage.

"Huge numbers of trees and huge numbers of animals would be displaced," he said. "I'd rather have the forest there than a waterfront property."


To the Editor:
This ex-city councilor parade is getting more interesting. Blake Caravati has now entered the fray on the side of the dam-builders, and in the process charges those ex-councilors who are in favor of the dredging-plus conservation and sediment limiting alternative, with "crying balderdash" and "hidden personal agendas". As an opponent of the Goliath dam and pump scheme I'm curious: what exactly are these "hidden personal agendas". In my discussion with Kevin Lynch, Rob Schilling, Francis Fife, and Kendra Hamilton I've concluded that they are sincerely concerned about the costs of this project and the financial and environmental impacts it will have. Aren't these legitimate concerns? Hasn't Kevin, particularly, been instrumental in ferreting out new information on the dredging technologies and economics?
I wasn't an elected official, like these people, but I have been much engaged in the water supply issue. I feel that the current dam project plan emerged when The Nature Conservancy helped to fill a political and managerial vacuum that existed at RWSA in 2003.. The city representatives to the RWSA were at least partially victims of the ensuing malaise rather than progenitors of it. The RWSA and RSWA "twins" muddled along during the critical year of 2003 when there was temporary Executive Director, while a search for a new Executive Director ensued, and a new Chair for RWSA, was appointed by the county (it was their turn to appoint this Chair)and one of the wettest years on record following the drought year of 2002. During that critical time the Integrated Water Supply Plan that was on the threshold of approval by the DEQ and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers was abandoned. In its place Gannet Fleming convinced the RWSA that the consultants for this plan had made errors in calculating safe yield for the enlargement of the SFRR pool. With a new model, some different data, and a pliant staff at RWSA , they came up with the James River pipeline as the unofficial, preferred water supply alternative. New consultants, new lawyer-lobbyists, and visions of dams dancing in their heads. Dredging , however, had also to be discredited in order to get state and federal permits. That dredging report is at the heart of the current controversy. With the Integrated Water Supply plan and dredging dismissed as insufficient or impracticable, the James River-out-of-the Rivanna watershed pipeline emerged as the unofficial, but favored alternative.
The ensuing rebellion led by local environmental groups concerned about the James River pipeline alternative,(which rebellion did not include the Nature Conservancy) emphasized the positive, sustainable vision of additional water supplies coming from our own watershed. When that vision, led by insurgent groups, became too powerful to resist, the goliath dam-pump-back up the mountain scheme emerged. The celebration of the environmental groups that the James River pipeline was dead, led them to support the project- concept of the Ragged Mountain dam pump0-back. I personally, abandoned the PumpDam concept project when the RWSA's executive director in a public meeting in September of 2007 \ said the dam -pump-back project might be too expensive to do all at once. When asked how much the project would cost he said he couldn't estimate the cost for city rate-payers because this would be determined by the city. Neither could Mr. Frederick say what the county-city share costs would be because it was still under negotiation. I spoke at that meeting and said what RWSA has here is not a "plan" because a plan needs to have some sort of financial and implementation information. It was immediately after this meeting when a number of us formed the the Citizens for A Sustainable Water Plan . .
Now, thanks to Mayor Dave Norris and the other current members of city Council for saying "whoa" until RWSA study dredging and conservation measures. . The next RWSA meeting will be a true "watershed" event.
The City has two votes from city employees, the City Manager and the Public Works Director. The Mayor and Council have given them specific directions on what motion to introduce and how to vote. The other three votes on RWSA will certainly support the city's position on this. I fear that the Albemarle County Service Authority may try to sidetrack the city council's intentions by defining "maintenance" dredging as something that happens after the expensive new dam at RMR is built. The sense of the city Council vote was expressed by comments from Mr. Taliaferro at that time. I want to move ahead, I'll support the existing plan if, after an analysis of conservation and dredging, the dam seems to be the better option. The RWSA should not foreclose options or preclude revisions by calling out the bulldozers to tear up Ragged Mountain's small unpaved road. Thankfully, the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers current permit will give the RWSA much to do to advance the dam option and the dredging and demand/conservation option, as well without calling out the bulldozers. Hint: the aquatic resource mitigation plan for Buck Mountain property must be completed before the Corp will permit physical activities in the "waters of the United States".
Rich Collins

I am so glad that both the Board of Supervisors and City Council are opening up their minds by showing a willingness to consider (not necessarily adopt) the dredging alternative to the current plan for increasing our future water supply. Besides the possibility that the second measure could ultimately save taxpayers money, a matter of concern to all, it would also save a beautiful piece of property of great environmental significance in this community - ie. Ragged Mountain Natural Area. I would hope that that benefit would carry equal significance. To me it seems painfully obvious that we have to consider the dredgine alternative to the current plan.

"So attention returns to the Rivanna Authority, whose leadership has now been second-guessed by both local governments." Since four of the five members of the board of RWSA are also employees of both jurisdiction, I think the second-guessing is always a necessary function of both bodies and a sign of a good representative democracy. I can only hope that each locality will scrutinize the necessary Request for Proposals that will define the scope and depth of this inquiry. Perhaps a comparative environmental impact study can be done for all aspects of any of the possible scenarios so that the citizens will get a better idea of what this community will be gaining and losing whatever the case. The acquisition of knowledge should be one of the main concerns of the people in the area. Can anyone imagine not funding a study on dredging then funding a study on an $18M street car? Knowledge supports perspective.

That $30 million should be spent to build a new landfill.

Rivanna Authoriies includes solid waste and they have neglected that portion of their duty, just trucking trash to other areas.


Make that 2 beautiful properties of environmental significance to be spared by dredging. Lets not forget South Fork will fill and die without dredging. Might as well call it Swamp Fork. It would smell like a mix of New Jersey and Belmont.

I for one think that elected officials should make decisions like the dam/pump without any regard to citizen opinion or physical impact on our landscape. Just look at 29N for a clear example of this wisdom. Long live arrogant unaccountable leadership!