Another drought year?

At yesterday's Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority board meeting, executive director Tom Frederick warned that 2006 could be another drought year.

"The spring planting season is fast approaching," Frederick wrote in a written report, " and I would strongly urge all our citizens to think and practice “water conservation” now and recognize there is a higher than average probability that this year could be a drought year." While our reservoirs are full right now, Frederick reported, abnormally dry conditions are causing concern.

In 2002, the area suffered a drought that had restaurants using paper plates, car washes closing down, and people collecting rainwater and siphoning soapy bath water.  


I myself was hoping that the James River Pipeline option was scrapped. I am vehemently opposed to that option. The town of Scottsville like Crozet has a separate water source than the Charlottesville Albemarle urban area. The Scottsville area usage is at 55 percent. And the residents of the Scottsville area view a pipeline to the James River as the urban area coming to their front door looking for a solution to a problem that they (the urban area) caused.

The Ragged Mountain dam proposal is the responsible solution. However I think the Water Authority would prefer a Scottsville pipeline for a more important reason. Development! According to a pdf on the water authority's website back when all the original propositions were listed.. their was wording along these lines: "A James River Pipeline would open up a previously Unserved part of Albemarle county." (note: the water authority shouldn't be in the business of creating *new* customers, but instead serving those they already have.)

Now I mentioned in my other post that the BoS and City Council get to appoint One seat to to the water authority board. And that's together that they both have to decide on one person to sit on that board. And who did they appoint? A developer. I think is name is "Gaffney."

SO along those lines that previous quote underlined above means to me that it's an infrastructure give-a-way to developers that would pave the way for development to continue south. And I think that is why they are keeping the Scottsville option on the table. I think what they might try to do.. is a bait and switch.. keep people looking and convinced that they're going to take the ragged mountian option then when no one's paying attention because the issue is so old.. they will quietly adopt the James River Pipeline.. and do so at a point where it will be too late to do anything about it.

Last time I looked there were already 5 straws getting ready to dip into the James River for water. I don't think it could handle a sixth.. especially not during a drought.

But if they are insistant on drawing water from the James River and it's "Not" because of a give-a-way to developers.. then they should partner up with Louisa and Fluvanna on the Bremo Bluff water project (and they could probably save money). I don't think they will do that though.. because if they do opt for a James River solution.. it will be because it's an infrastructure give-a-way for developers.

As an additional note: When a pipeline was run in orange county, residents in the area that would be served by it's pipeline were required to pay and hook up to it regardless of the fact that they were already getting water "free" via well.

The Ragged Mountian Dam and Pipeline from Rivanna would be the "responsible" and correct solution. And keep in mind the Safety Retrofitting needs to happen regardless of where they get the water.

Gas $3..00 to $3.50 this summer.

Water bills will double again this summer.

I wonder what's next? :)

When we went through the drought in 2002 there was a great rush of rhetoric from the local politicians. They had meetings and proposed ideas...and then actually did nothing at all. What happened to dredging the reservoir and increasing storage capacity? There are more people that depend on the public water supply than there were in 2002 and yet the Board of Supervisors, City Council, City Manager and County Executive have not take any real concrete steps to better handle a drought. At least nothing I know about. Please prove me wrong!

If it does rain anytime soon I'm catching every drop of water that falls on my roof and saving it.

I think if we just keep on with the unfettered development of 29N we will be just fine. What little rain we get can be captured in the form of runoff from all of those parking lots and funnelled into the reservoir instead of just soaking into the dirt and going to waste.

Kevin Cox wrote:

What happened to dredging the reservoir and increasing storage capacity?

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority was responsible for that. While I'm not sure how it works here.. in other places I've lived when the word "Authority" was used as it is above that meant the agency was self governing and basically a government entity to itself. The BoS and City Council have very little input on what actions get implemented apart from the fact that they both collectively get to pick and appoint the candidate for one seat on the Water and Sewer Board. (And they happened to pick a Developer for that seat.. Hmmm. Curious.)

They hired a consulting firm to study the alternatives and then decided everything would be too expensive. They picked 4 options that they figured were politically viable, and subject to the least amount of protest (or at least involved people they thought had the least politically impacting voice).

Since options were very expensive they of course wanted a solution that would fix all the drought and supply issues with as few steps as possible. Dredging was one of those 4 options but alone wouldn't generate the water capacity they wanted to target. It would need to be combined with raising the lip of the south fork rivanna dam a set number of feet (I forget how much). And the raising the lip option faced opposition from people who thought they would loose a walking path/natural park type area. So they killed that idea.

Then they discovered that the "Ragged Mountian Dam" would need retrofitting to make it complient with federal safety standards, which would also cost a big chunk of change. And that retrofitting would have to happen REGARDLESS of which other water supply solution they adopted.

So last time I was paying attention to this issue my understanding was that they had decided to adopt the option which involved raising the height on the Ragged Mountian Dam (combined with the safety retrofitting which has to happen anyway) and then implement some sorta pipeline from Rivanna to feed Ragged Mountian since it's a "run-off" reservior (as opposed to stream fed).

In my opinion anytime they start beating the "we need to conserve water" drums, especially after how they used "conservation" as an excuse to raise water rates during the last big drought (as in 'Ooh people are conserving too well, so now we're hurting financially, so we need to raise water rates'), we should expect that's what they want to do again.

(note: Parts of this post in italics are basically my editorializing.)

Thank you Bill Wells for an informative reply.

Since 2004, the process of finalizing the water supply has been very active and received broad community participation. There's a slew of information at:
In the interest of full disclosure, I work for the Authority. We have 19 different regulatory agencies to deal with and that presents quite a challenge, and time committment. I am always disappointed when people complain or criticize based on inaccurate information, so I hope this is helpful.

I appreciate you posting that site up there Anne. Too often people don't seem to acknowledge the complexity on the
water issue and often just strike out at the Authority in a sort of "blame the messenger" deal. Obviously there needs to be a cohesive plan but with so many people involved it just ain't easy. Obviously with the way things are going in our area we can't simply have unchecked development going at the rate that it is and not address what the long-tem strategy is. I hope that folks keep their emotions in check and understand, as you said, that there's quite a bit more to it than just a snap of the fingers. But Kevin I wish it would rain too! The trees where I live in Keswick need it!


Thanks so much for the reply. I have taken a look at the RWSA page. I hope you can answer some of the questions that have come to me after looking at the staff report on ongoing projects. I see that as of March 27 there is still discussion as to which path to take; rehabilitating the Ragged Mountain Reservoir or running a pipeline from the James. Like many of those who have commented, I am baffled by the proposal to run a pipeline from the James. After all, the James was extremely low during the previous drought. Hasn't there been a great outpouring of public opposition to a pipeline, much more opposition in fact than support? Why is a pipeline still being considered? I also see that an application package for a permit to operate the dam at Ragged Mountain was submitted to the Department of Conservation of Resources but that an explanation had to be submitted as to "why previous permitting schedules were not met". Will you share that explanation with us? I also would like to know how many years the Ragged Mountain Reservoir has needed "improvements to spillway capacity and the stabilitiy of the lower dam." Finally I would like to know what the RWSA is doing to improve water conservation if there is another drought. Certainly there must have been some lessons from the previous drought that could help to improve water conservation efforts if there is a drought anytime soon. This seems particularly important given the length of time that it will take to either improve the Ragged Mountain Reservoir or run the pipeline. Please correct any errors I may have made in my interpretation of the staff report.
Kevin Cox

Maybe it is just semantics here, Pete Armeta, but I don't think angry folk can be accused of "blaming the messenger" when that messenger's name has the word "Authority" in it.

Yes, OK, there are lots of complicated things going on here, but if you are the "authority" don't you then have the means to deal with these. If they don't perhaps the name should be changed from "The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority" to "The Rivanna Water and Sewer People Who Have Your Best Interest At Heart (Really) But Can't Seem to Accomplish Much Because We Aren't Really an Authority and Because All These Other Regulatory Agencies Have A Say in What We Try To Do".

I certainly understand folks being angry- as a matter of fact I am frustrated myself! And "blaming the messenger" is not specific to the Authority particularly. The point is that in something so complicated and with so many peeps chiming in it will take collaboration between many people, bodies, agencies and government in order for anything to move forward. Plus real openness when it comes to citizens being heard (not this whole Albemarle County position of a "disconnect" between the county and citizens).

On the pipeline from the James "I'm scared!" Fluvanna & Louisa are excited on my end (I live out toward there on the Alb/Fluvanna line and to think of what that pipeline will do to the Zion area, and the areas between Southern Albemarle and north just makes me envision the whole area going to pot. Not an educated assessment just intuition based on the current culture of economic interests, the political climate and the pace of things...