NEWS- Competing visions: Citizens unveil alternate 50-year plan


Former mayor Francis Fife: "We're asking Rivanna to put a hold on construction of the dam."

Ever since a band of citizens began alerting the community that a pristine natural area would be clear-cut to create a new pipeline-dependent mega-reservoir, water has become– as perhaps it always should have been– a household word.

Coming late to the party, the Hook began covering the story in March and, through a series of investigative reports, discovered that the local waterworks– an unelected body called the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority– had relied on a single firm for many of its key assumptions– most notably, the cost of dredging the Rivanna Reservoir.

That firm, Pennsylvania-based Gannett Fleming, declared that dredging the Reservoir– currently the largest source of our drinking water– is an option too difficult for the community to handle either aesthetically or financially. But as the Hook reported, the company's top dredging estimate is now nearly $225 million, an amount larger than a recent contract to dredge over 50 million cubic yards of sediment from the Panama Canal.

Such comparisons have angered some of the reservoir plan's backers, such as Piedmont Environmental Council's Jeff Werner, who recently branded the Canal comparison "theater." Others have suggested that anyone questioning the new reservoir must be a growth opponent. But opponents could have other concerns.

Albemarle County citizens, for instance, are facing a rate increase that jumps their water/sewer bill 55 percent over two years. And yet it's Charlottesville City Council, not the Albemarle Supervisors, who have now hosted two public hearings to the issue, the first last November and the most recent on Monday, May 19.

"We cannot meet the projected need by dredging only," Ridge Schuyler (one of three Nature Conservancy officials speaking at the meeting) told the crowd packed in Council chambers. Later, Mayor Dave Norris said he agreed, and former mayor David Brown agreed as well.


So might the Citizens group. 


Thirty minutes before the meeting, Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan held a press conference at which they issued a call for various measures to combine with dredging to meet the community's 50-year demand.

"It does pain me to be here tonight arguing with my fellow environmentalists," said Kevin Lynch, a former City Councilor and Citizens member, who handed out a four-page counter-proposal [PDF].

"There's a lot of other ways–" Lynch, one of the night's 36 speakers, told Council. "We can conserve a little better."

Indeed, Lynch disputes the Rivanna Authority's contention that the community will demand 18.7 million gallons per day, or MGD, in 2055. Such a draw is nearly double today's level and, Lynch contends, overstates reality by 2.5 MGD.

The Citizens claim that in 2055 actual urban water demand will be just 16.2 MGD, because the Rivanna Authority has (a) relied on population projections from Gannett Fleming that are seven percent higher than Virginia Employment Commission projections; and (b) understated the effects of conservation during droughts at five percent instead of the Citizens-preferred ten percent. (During the 2002 drought, demand plummeted 40 percent from 12.23 to 7.28 MGD.)

Further pointing to the Authority's own statistics, Lynch noted that local consumers, despite recent population growth (which has been around 1.4 percent annually), actually trimmed their long-term water consumption from 11.6 MGD in 1999 to just 9.98 mgd in 2007.

One of the key reasons that some environmental groups support the new reservoir– despite what one Council speaker called its imminent "monumental slaughter of wildlife" in the 180-acre clear-cutting at Ragged Mountain– is that it claims to return the Moormans River to its traditional flows 99 percent of the time. Currently, when the dam isn't full, the Moormans River may receive only .4 MGD.

Lynch said the Citizens want minimum 2 MGD stream flows in the Moormans and suggests in his position paper that during a drought's voluntary conservation stage, half of all community water reduction beyond five percent should be returned to the Moormans.

Lynch says the official plan– estimated by the Authority to cost $143 million– will require another doubling of water bills "in the next 13 years to build a system we don't really need for 50 years."

Lynch says the Citizens believe that the demand could be met for $80.7 million, but he also offered two back-up proposals at $93 million and $112 million. Before Lynch released his plans, official water plan supporter Werner lamented the lack of such proposal in a letter to City Council.

"Not having an alternative plan to review or respond to– possibly even endorse– we have no analysis," wrote Werner, "of whether it might achieve the ecological objectives, the budget constraints, and the water storage capacity of the adopted plan."

City Council will hold a public hearing on water rates June 2 and is expected to vote on both the rates and the water plan June 16.


Official plan

112-foot tall Ragged Mountain/I-64 Dam (18.7 MGD - includes other existing sources)


9.5-mile 36" pipeline/pump station to fill new reservoir


50-year electric cost of uphill water pumping


30-inch pipeline to Observatory treatment plant


Bolster Observatory plant to 10mgd


Bolster South Fork plant to 16mgd


subtotal: $142,950,000

*Build forebays and maintenance dredging for 50 years 


Total Project Cost 



What's delivered: 18.7 MGD water

(100 percent of year 2055's predicted 18.7 MGD demand)


What's financially controversial:

• Plan assumes the City will sell 133.5 acres of pristine Ragged Mountain land for just $4,114/acre, a sale Council can block.

• Plan assumes that 66 other property owners will sell a 25' wide permanent pipeline easement for an average of just $3,772, an amount foes believe too small by a factor of ten.

• Complicated structures such as the dam and pipeline could– according to the RWSA's own documents– be underpriced by 100 percent and still count as "accurate" estimates.

• Fifty years of piping water uphill creates a sizable carbon footprint.

Plan omits

annual cost of turbidity removal chemicals including sodium permanganate, aluminum suIfate, polymer, and caustic soda.

–annual costs for disposing of the resulting mud

–annual repair costs for the new pumphouse

–annual repair costs for the 36" pipeline.

* Due to recent statements by local officials endorsing maintenance dredging, the Hook has added $15 million (a 50-year maintenance cost employed by the Citizens) to the official RWSA plan cost.


What's environmentally controversial:

• Puts most of the area's water supply in a body straddled by Interstate 64

• Decommissions the pipeline from Sugar Hollow reservoir, whose water the state Health Department has hailed as the best in Albemarle

• Requires clear-cutting of 180 acres of mature forest in a nationally hailed bird sanctuary

• Would flood 14,033 feet (2.65 miles) of streams

• The massive pipeline in new right-of-way crossing 32 streams along the proposed 9.5-mile route


Alternate plan

Repair existing Ragged Mountain Dam spillway


Restoration dredging of initial 2 million yards at Rivanna Reservoir (14.3 MGD - includes other existing sources)


Build forebays and maintenance dredging for 50 years


Install flow control valves on Beaver Creek Reservoir (.8 MGD)


Install flow control valves on Lake Albemarle (.7 MGD)


Install flow control valves for 5' drawdown of Chris Green Lake (.5 MGD)


Install emergency intake boom on Rivanna Reservoir (1 MGD)


30-inch pipeline to Observatory treatment plant


Renovate Observatory treatment plant at existing 4 mgd


Bolster South Fork treatment plant to 16 mgd


Replace 18"-inch Sugar Hollow pipeline


Total Project Cost 



What's delivered: 17.3 MGD water

(93 percent of year 2055's official 18.7 MGD demand)

(107 percent of Citizens' restated 16.2 MGD demand)


What's financially controversial:

• Estimated with dredging concept from Charlottesville-based DDR consortium instead of nearly $225 million estimate by multi-skilled national firm Gannett Fleming.

• Restates demand; doesn't offer as much water capacity as official plan.

• Restoration dredging may entail removing more than 2 million cubic yards, so Citizens say they're willing to add up to $6 million to the total.

• Assumes dredger won't encounter toxic substances on the lake bottom

• Unlike official plan, it doesn't already have a DEQ permit.


Where else they could have gone (5.5 MGD & 7 MGD):

• A 2001 study found that with a $13.25 million investment (probably more now, due to inflation), the treatment plant along the North Fork Rivanna River near Chris Greene Lake could be expanded to handle up to 5.5 MGD that could be obtained by a 20-foot drawdown of the recreational water body. Supporters point out that September and October– when swimming at Chris Greene has already closed for the season– are typical months when a drought emergency would be most dire.

• That same 2001 study claimed that $5.6 million (again, probably low by now) could do to the Rivanna Reservoir what was done in 1999 to the Sugar Hollow Dam: put a crest or bladder on its top to raise the level. That study found that raising the dam four feet would create capacity of 7 MGD, although a later study by Gannett Fleming halved that estimate, and mid-decade meetings with regulators suggested that the resulting 18,000 feet of stream impacts would raise too many environmental concerns. (Ironically, the new I-64 area reservoir garnered DEQ approval despite flooding 14,033 feet of streams and clear-cutting 180 acres of mature forest.)