Water world: Plans for future water woes

Bladder. For most people, the word conjures images of a certain bodily function. But for those involved in local water use and conservation issues, the word could mean a world of difference the next time drought strikes.

How is that? It's all detailed in a two-part plan revised by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, the City of Charlottesville, the Albemarle County Service Authority, and a group of interested citizens on October 28. The "Community Water Supply Plan" sets guidelines to protect the watershed and usher the community through whopper droughts for the next 50 years.

Lois Rochester says her group, the League of Women Voters, has been intensely involved in the water issues and supports the plan.

And John Martin, of Friends of the Moormans, a group dedicated to saving the ecosystem of the Moormans River, says his group was "very pleased with the plan" as well.

But activist Kevin Cox says he's heard a lot of talk about the plan without seeing much action. Though water rates have risen, Cox wonders where the money is going. "They're not doing anything," he says.

Lonnie Wood, acting director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, says nothing could be further from the truth.

The delay, Wood says, has been the hiring of a new engineering firm charged with permitting, design, and construction for the expansion of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir on Earlysville Road.

Those engineers, says Wood, have made significant progress on planned improvements to the Reservoir.

The first part of the Authority's plan covers water infrastructure projects through the year 2030.

The biggest and most imminent change will likely be the addition of four-foot-crest controls– the "bladders." Attached to the top of the dam, the bladders will increase the reservoir's capacity by 600 million gallons. Perhaps the only thing more impressive than their capacity is their price: $7.5 million, according to the plan, including an estimated $2 million for bridge replacement.

Other elements of the first phase of the plan include dredging reservoirs and working to preserve the watersheds that feed our water supply.

Cox, however, doesn't believe that local water woes can be solved without construction of a new reservoir.

"They definitely need to accept reality," he says, "and move forward with the Buck Mountain Reservoir."

Cox believes that the reluctance to build the much talked about Buck Mountain is a result of pressure from anti-growth factions.

"I don't want to have to suffer as part of growth management," says Cox. "If we restrict the municipal water supply, there won't be water for growth."

But Jack Marshall, former chair of the RWSA board, and current head of anti-growth group ASAP, says Cox has it wrong.

"Water should not be used as a tool to discourage growth," says Marshall. "Control should be through land use and other mechanisms."

Marshall says that during his tenure on the Authority board, the Buck Mountain reservoir was considered threatening to the endangered James River spinymussel, a tiny invertebrate living downstream along Buck Creek. A variety of state and federal agencies, including the DEQ, Army Corp of Engineers, and the EPA, considered the project environmentally unfeasible.

"That may have changed," Marshall acknowledges, but maintains that it is not a simple undertaking.

If the new RWSA plan is followed, there will be plenty of time for water experts to contemplate possible problems with the reservoir. Or perhaps, plenty of time for their grandchildren to contemplate the problems.

The Buck Mountain Reservoir is included in the second part of the plan, which is not due to go into effect until sometime between 2030 and 2050.