Dumped: The reservoir's trashy visitors

There's a certain zen associated with living on a body of water like the 450-acre Rivanna Reservoir, a place where a heron or hawk glides above the water in search of breakfast and where early morning rowers cut through the mist, their oars breaking the glassy surface in unison.

That's not exactly Karen Grenadier's experience. Up on the north end of the reservoir, trash dumping and drunken fishermen sully the once-pristine beauty.

In a turnout past the bridge on Reas Ford Road, a pile of demolition debris didn't make it to the dump. Nor did a mattress. A steep, rutted path, suitable for four-wheel drive only, goes down to the water, where an abandoned sofa sits in its own little pool of recent rain.

"When people aren't throwing trash, they're getting drunk and high," Grenadier says. "It's not very pleasant."

In her 20 years of living on the reservoir, she's seen people change the oil in their vehicles by the water, dump deer carcasses and tires, and play loud music. They get stuck and knock on her door at midnight to call a tow truck. The latter happens "at least once a week during the summer," she says.

Grenadier is particularly concerned about the environmental hazards of oil, anti-freeze, and deer carcasses getting into the reservoir– the source of local drinking water.

"The problem is getting the police to come," she says. "The police have bigger fish to fry."

"We respond to all citizen's complaints," says Lt. Greg Jenkins at the Albemarle County Police. He doesn't recall many complaints from the area on Reas Ford Road near the reservoir– but he knows where Grenadier is talking about. But in a check of records since 2003, he says, he finds no arrests there.

"Some areas are real prone to litter," says Jenkins. "It's deplorable to see the amount of trash."

Richard Defibaugh at the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority would agree with that. He sent someone to pick up trash a couple of weeks ago. "We pick up refrigerators, a lot of couches and chairs, and the most popular by far and leading candidate– tires," he says.

The enforcement problem? "We're a small department," says Defibaugh. "I have to pull a man off to go pick up trash, and I don't have the manpower to do a daily patrol."

Besides the aesthetic concerns, "we're always concerned about people putting things in the reservoir," he says. That's why gas motors aren't allowed on the water.

"I would love to see this taken care of," he adds. "It's an eyesore and drain on our resources."

The water in the reservoir is heavily monitored, and an oil spill has never compromised water quality, according to Anne Bedarf, RWSA environmental and safety manager.

"If a truck fell into the reservoir and was leaking all its oil, even that's not enough to contaminate it," she claims, something western U.S. 29 bypass opponents may be relieved to hear.

However, Bedarf shares Grenadier and Defibaugh's disgust with the dumpers. "It really is an added burden," she complains. "It's something the police should be handling."

Defibaugh urges people who see dumping to get a license number and call the police.

"That's awesome if a citizen gets a tag number," says Lt. Jenkins.

"Ideally, it would be fenced and no one could get in," suggests Defibaugh. But even in the post-9/11 world of heightened terrorist alerts, do people really want to see a fence around the popular recreation site?

"Unfortunately, people like this ruin it for everyone," says Bedarf.

Grenadier would like to see additional patrols and barricades installed to stop those who choose such a scenic spot down by the water to change their oil.

The police aren't the only agency with jurisdiction. County zoning enforcement is also looking into the problem. "We treat it like any other dumping violation and get with the owner," says Bart Swoboda, manager of zoning.

"If someone dumps a dead elephant on your lawn," he adds, "it's your responsibility."

In this case, the land around the reservoir is owned by the City of Charlottesville, but a call to the city was quickly routed back to Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.

"If it's the city, we'll contact them just like any other violator and ask what their plans are," says Swoboda.

Residents near the Reas Ford pull-off have to deal with another nuisance: noise pollution. When Virginia Gardner first moved there 14 years ago, she says she called the police "every other night" because of the noise after 10pm, when the area is supposed to be closed.

Now, when she hears gunshots at night, she figures someone's seen a snake. Or when she hears screams, she assumes it's from people partying. It's disconcerting nonetheless.

"We don't know if someone's fallen in when we hear screaming," she says. "We heard gunshots the other night and had to wonder, what's that about?"

Giving fishermen a bad name: This unofficial access to the Rivanna Reservoir is also an unofficial dump.