Hard path: Waterworks to approve new firm, new spending

news-water-schnabelSchnabel made the finals in 2007 but was originally passed-over by the now-fired Gannett Fleming.

Despite the plea of Albemarle County's own water resources expert to follow a so-called "softer" path, the unelected Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority board appears poised to approve a contract to a new firm to design the controversial reservoir that would supply the bulk of the future water supply, a project whose now over-$200 million bloat hasn't dimmed the board's enthusiasm for it.

Documents released in advance of the Tuesday, September 22 meeting show that Authority Director Tom Frederick hoped to gain his board's approval to ink a contract with Schnabel Engineering for a fixed cost of $1.6 million plus up to $544,765 for geotechnical field testing and some public outreach.

Instead, he won approval for just $1.42 million to the Virginia-based firm.

"We're hoping to assist Rivanna and the community to build a safe and cost-effective dam," says Schnabel project administrator Chris Webster.

But what about concerns that the project–- which some contend has been rendered unnecessary by a decade of lower water usage–- might represent a waste of money?

"No," says Webster. "I think the proposal that we've given to Rivanna will provide good value."

When the board approves the spending with Schnabel Tuesday, the dam design cost has shot to $3.12 million, as $1.7 million has already been paid to Gannett Fleming for dam design. The total is about the same as the initial contract with Gannett Fleming though it's 22 percent more than originally budgeted.

dwindling-demand-for-waterLocal water use keeps falling, as the latest figures show.

"It's just throwing money down the toilet," says former Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Betty Mooney, who went to City Council on Monday, September 21 with another member of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan to urge a wider halt to the project than the limited halt that City Council issued last November.

The Citizens group hoped City Council, which owns all the local reservoirs, would follow the lead of Newport News, which just killed its own controversial reservoir after reports that it is unnecessary. Here in Charlottesville, however, the Citizens have watched the rush to dam in disbelief, as continuing rounds of data show a community using less water.

The just-released figures, for instance, show that RWSA sold only 10.3 million gallons a day in August. By contrast, during the four years leading up to the 2002 drought, the daily August tally was 12.27 million gallons a day.

news-water-big-dam-big-moneyRWSA will spend over $12 million before beginning its dam–- even as some contend it's unneeded.

"They haven't done any testing to see if it can be built before throwing money at the design," says Mooney. "This is the same mistake Gannett Fleming made."

Webster won't have to live under that credibility crisis, as some of the spending appears to pay for rock testing.

"It's not going to be a Gannett Fleming design with tweaks by Schnabel," says Webster. "It's going to be a Schnabel design."

Webster confirms that the Schnabel proposal intends to obtain rock on-site, an excavation that he says will come from the footprint of the new reservoir, so it won't leave a lasting stain on the landscape.

One thing Schnabel won't be asked to provide is a cost estimate for the pipeline that Gannett Fleming engineers decreed as necessary to fill the reservoir. The pipeline became something of an embarrassment last summer after an electronics magnate began asking questions, and former City Councilor Kevin Lynch began supplying answers.

Among the omissions that led netrepreneur William Crutchfield to blast the scheme as Charlottesville's own "Bridge to Nowhere" were the omission of any budgeting for chemicals, budgeting just $249,000 for acquiring 9.5 miles of easements, assuming that the pipe could follow the moribund Western Bypass, and hoping that electric rates would rise only 50 percent in 50 years. Dominion Virginia Power blew the uphill river's budget last year when, before the project even began, the company raised its so-called "fuel rate" an incredible 74 percent.

Authority Director Frederick maintains that recent water usage numbers should not steer his board away from long-term projections that demand the new reservoir-pipeline.

Webster says that unlike Gannett Fleming and dredge study nominee HDR–- both of which were asked by Frederick to refrain from talking to reporters–- Webster has won the right to speak about the engineering aspects of the project with media.

Amen to that!

–last updated 5:52pm Tuesday, September 22

Read more on: dredgingrwsa


Neil Williamson, head of the Free Enterprise Institute, was on Rob's show today claiming this plan was well vetted. Hope he reads these blogs and gets his information straight before he talks about this issue again. In his position I would think honesty matters.

listen to the last minute of this podcast


Does anyone know how many dams this company Schnabel has designed ?

Or anything about their credentials for that matter ?

This article presumes that dredging the existing reservoir and rebuilding a 14 mile pipeline will be less expensive than expanding an existing reservoir and building a shorter, 9 mile, pipeline. Clearly there is no conclusive evidence of this. In fact, given the huge expense (cost?) of disposing of dredged materials, it may turn out to be more expensive.

This community turned out en masse for many public hearings several years ago in support of the water supply plan that our city and county elected officials eventually adopted. It was and is the preferred alternative, for many reasons. Where was the Hook, Bettie Moony and the rest of the anti- water plan group when these meetings were going on? You're a little late to the party.

Alicia, there were no public hearings held until after the plan was chosen by Rivanna and a very small ( I FOIA'ed the attendance records) number of citizens. Primarily the meetings consisted of Rivanna, City and County Staff, paid staff from the Nature Conservancy, and Piedmont Environmental Council, as well as Southern Enviornmental Law Center, and folks from a group called Friends of the Moorman's River. There were very few ordinary residents and even fewer from the city not associated with these organizations. I have the attendance records and would be glad to show them to you . Please contact me through our web-site.

In 2006 when the City and County officials voted on a water withdrawal permit to allow the chosen option to proceed, they did so without ever holding even one public hearing. Rivanna held the first public hearing in Sept of 2007 and it was attended by very few elected officials and about 50 people at Lane Auditorium. Please see the timeline section of our web-site where the entire process to chose the new dam at Ragged Mt. and South Fork Pipeline is laid out with original documents.

Timeline: A not-so-public planning process.


It seems "Alicia" comes out about every 5 or 6 month under a different name and says the same thing regardless of what proof is offered otherwise. City Council approved a "plan" for a $37M dam, not a new dam at at any cost. In other words, the "plan" that CC approved is no longer on the table and a new one needs to be negotiated.
"Alicia" I had an acquaintance once that got embroiled in a lie. The stress of trying to maintain the lie resulted in her having water blisters around her mouth. Did she learn her lesson? No. She started cheating on her husband and ended up in the hospital with boils on her behind needing to be lanced. Learn from her mistakes.

@****, you know as well as I do there's no logic to this process. At least those who are in favor of this current proposal have not bothered to offer any logic to support it, just "We must provide for the future of our grandchildren," as if anybody's gradchild would like to remain here around these duplicitous people. They already know that their grandparents are liars.

Schnabel is a well known, well respected firm in this field (dam design). But so is Gannett Fleming. The problem is that early on, Gannett Fleming made recommendations to the RWSA regarding the water supply plan that resulted in the adoption of a plan for a new dam (which they got the initial contract to design)and among the information they provided were dredging estimates that seem to have been pulled from thin air. That consulting work was clearly seriously flawed but is not being corrected by obtaining real-world estimates for dredging, while the work they were actually qualified to do, the dam design is being thrown out and started from scratch, while actual numbers for dredging may eliminate the need for said dam. If you can find the logic in this, please enlighten me

Who is at the bottom of all this ??? One person told me the concrete company that stands to make a ton of dough, another said the RWSA Board/Developers, who threw out the previous director and trashed a signed contract between the city and county to dredge and put a bladder on the South Fork Reservoir, another said the Nature Conservancy, to push their pumped storage/ free the rivers international model. Whoever it is, this is a dam shame and a horrendous waste of money, and we need to find out and stop this.
Anyone who can bring this information to light will have served this community above and beyond the call of duty and we all thank you in advance.

When will our elected officials WAKE UP !!!!!! ???????

If asked, I'd have offered some level of support for the RWSA's water supply plan a few years ago. That was when Gannet Fleming was saying that a new dam at Ragged Mountain would cost $37 million and dredging would cost up to $225 million. It turns out, however, that though those numbers are likely to be ballpark costs for each of the solutions mentioned, they've been transposed. When you speak to dredging experts, rather than discredited dam-designers, the cost to dredge our existing reservoir seems more like $30-$40 million, while the dam costs have skyrocketed. And thats without the pipeline necessary for it to serve a purpose. Meanwhile the predicted environmental damage to Ragged Mountain Natural Area continues to grow as well, all in an effort to keep cost number for the new dam from spiraling further out of control. So, Alicia, the question shouldn't be why some have had a change of heart concerning the water supply plan but rather, why RWSA hasnt? Wouldn't you like to know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, what each option would cost? Before moving forward?

Why should city residents have to pay any of the $1.4 million to design a new dam when the county refuses to pay for the dredging study necessary to correct the inaccurate Gannett Fleming estimate. Mayor Norris has publicly stated we may not even need this new dam.

The City is under no legal requirement to pay for any impoundment of new water that they do not need now or in 50 years. There should be a transparent process to understand the cost share process to pay for any water plan by city residents, all of whom will bear this burden while many county residents on wells will not.

I like how the inset portion of the cover rendering at the top of the story shows a river of water flowing over the dam (and presumably not flooding Moore's Creek downstream?) when in fact if that scenario were to be achieved, it would only be by pumping the Rivanna River 10+ miles and uphill only to have it spill over the dam at the end of that (expensive)trip. More of RWSA's fantasyland. They should have a unicorn drinking from the reservoir in that picture.

follow the money, we are getting jobbed...

The rationale was read by Audrey Watts ( sitting in for Mr.O'Connell) in a statement meant to confuse everyone, but basically saying we're doing this and none of the Councilors questioned him.

Thanks Betty. I wonder if Holly Edwards knows that by voting for moving forward on designing the dam with the present criteria she is opening the door for others to ignore her future comments or criticisms.
Why would she vote for something if she was opposed to it? Does she think that she has to go along with the crowd for unanimity's sake? If she had voted "no" that would have placed pressure upon Overrun O'Connell and Judith Mueller to vote according to Council's previous directions by clarifying those directions in public. What a disaster.

Don't worry, Betty, they only need to quarry 11,000 dump truck loads of aggregate (plus spoils)from within Ragged mountain. And they plan to do this from an undetermined area that will eventually be covered by the reservoir itself (once the pipeline is completed and there's enough water to reach that level), though if they only find suitable material for this elsewhere within the natural area, all bets are off. Add in the areas to be cleared for a concrete plant, staging areas, parking lots, and tractor trailer access roads (at least one in, one out)and you've got a natural area thats going to look like an industrial wasteland. At least they probably won't stop you from bringing your dog then? If you'd even want to.
Maybe that is why Stafford County(Virginia) rejected their own Schnabel designed RCC (roller-compacted concrete) dam in favor of an earthen one. That project is eerily similar to ours in many ways. When they first put it out to bid a few years ago (though planned since '91), they thought it would cost $77 million. Though they've completed much of the infrastructure, they have yet to build the actual dam and are looking at at least $130 million before its all said and done. And they had the sense to build it next to the river from which they were planning to fill it.

It amazes me the number of people who freak out about global warming and recycling every plastic cup just ignore this issue.

This is one that they can actually do something about if they just spoke up.

The company that wants to build the dam will always lobby FOR the dam, even if it is behind closed doors.

This issue needs a complete rexamination from people who have seen what other communities have gone through.

As far as cost estimates go.. you won't see ANY of these companies willing to do it for a fixed price. They ALL want the chance to run up the tab for "unforseen" problems. (and that is where ALL of the profit comes from)

Speak up charlottesville or you will pay the price in dollars a dn cents and environmental catastrophe.

By the way.. what would the annual cost of maintaing a 14 mile pipeline cost compared to an ongoing dredging operation to keep the resivoir dredged?

Someday the story of why Gannett Fleming was really fired needs to be told by the press . I agree with **** that Gannett Fleming is a well respected dam design and dam building firm, and they were willing to design and build the dam to the recommendations of the 3 dam experts brought in by Mr. Frederick to check their work. The panel in their report found their work to be solid, but since the panel was tasked by the RWSA to come up with a cheaper dam they did. At least an idea of how to build a cheaper dam, with no cost estimate. To make it cheaper some of the recommendations involved building a riskier dam. Gannett Fleming was even willing to do this, but not to take on the liability of the risk that the dam could possibly leak or fail in some way. RWSA was also not willing to take on the risk and so they fired Gannett Fleming. We have documents and letters to show this chain of events. Now Schnabel will spend an initial 1.4 million, which will increase in Phase II, to come up with another design, but they do not build dams, so we are left in the same place. If this cheaper dam, as Gannett Fleming said, will carry a significant risk the next dam builder will likely not take it either, and we'll be back to square one again.

When will this madness stop. I guess we're getting these firms through the recession, but at what price to the ratepayers, and in the meantime our infrastructure is not being maintained and we have not a drop of additional water to show for all this expense.

We need officials to follow the lead of the Sierra Club and our group, and get the restorative dredging information first before throwing away any more money on dam designs for a dam that given the 10 year trend of lower water use our group believes we don't need.

Will our community buy into the idea of a quarry at Ragged Mountain Natural Area as a way to make the dam cheaper ? Will our city officials even approve of such an idea ?

I was already disappointed with Holly Edwards because of her ridiculous rational that since some Belmonter's eat at local restaurants they ought to suffer rezoning to shove more down their throats. This vote is really too much though! What ever happened to the idea of elected LEADERS? If she wasn't convinced that she was voting for the right thing, then she shouldn't have. Why does such a great place, with so many talented people keep electing such loser city councils?


Yep! That's why I'm hoping my fellow voters will join me in a single shot for Fenwick! I'd vote him as mayor if that was allowed. No way in hell he could do less than Brown did in that position.

I waffle on what I think about Huja and Norris, but I'm sure I don't want 3/5 of my city council made of of the underwhelming Szakos, Edwards, and Brown. What a weak line-up! About the only one that would be good for is Gary O'Connell.

Mayor Norris was not in attendance at tonight's meeting.

Correction: Mr. Watts first name is Aubrey and his title is Director of The Office of Economic Development

BTW, I listened to the podcast and Neil Williamson said it was well vetted by the public because he was privy to a bunch of emails "going back and forth." Then why is it that members of the public have to resort to FOIA to get copies of the emails? It's frightening to think that Mr. Free Enterprise thinks this is the proper way to conduct public business: put, say, 15 different options out there for public discussion and just before the vote chose one to vote on.

If they find out the new uphill, electricity generated pipeline they have to build for this plan costs over 200 million does it make sense to spend more money designing the dam at Ragged Mt. I don't get it ?

Exactly my point Cville Eye . The dam/pipeline option was lobbied for in private meetings and as Mr. Williamson says in e-mails. That is not my definition of a public process.

I, along with a dedicated group of volunteers, have been fighting to get better information for our community for two years against very powerful and determined forces with paid staffs and hefty financial resources. I appreciate the information provided by ***** and CvilleEye . We need all the help we can get to tell the true story and find the best solution, both financially and environmentally for our future water supply needs. We are also grateful for the courageous stance of the Sierra Club that recently issued the following statement to our officials.

Rethinking Our Water Plan

The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club believes that new information requires the Charlottesville/Albemarle Community to take a fresh look at our water needs for the decades ahead. Our community should consider a new water plan with different priorities that draws on the resources of our local watersheds. This plan should emphasize the following:

Water conservation

Preservation of ecosystems and other natural resources

The potential for capacity restorative dredging of the Rivanna Reservoir

Yes, even Brian Wheeler on the radio the other day did not deny that the State does not require a 50-year water supply plan. I inferred from his statements that to plan for 50 years is a local preference and that soon the State will be asking us for a 30-year plan. Oh, the misinformation that has been promulgated by some of the proponents of this proposal should show rate payers exactly the kind of people they are dealing with and inspire them to kick then out.

***** that would explain why Don Wagner, Chair of the Albemarle County Service Authority, is fighting so hard to stop the dredging study and proceed asap with the dam. Looks like they cut a deal with the Nature Conservancy and the Moorman's people to cut off the pipe at Sugar Hollow, even though replacing it would be far cheaper (downhill, no de-sedimentation, electicity, land purchases or pumping station needed ) so it's a marriage made in heaven for these people, and by the way Wagner, Palmer, Martin and the rest of the Moormans's people get off scot-free since they're all on wells and don't pay water rates and the rest of us city folks would end up in rate-payer hell. I say if they want this so bad let the county pay for it and see how they're ratepayers feel about the price.

and City Councilors don't pay one more nickle of our money toward that new dam and don't give away our park and land --let them build their own reservoir on their own land for this unlimited growth plan !

CvilleEye, as you can hear Dede Smith argued against the contract as I did. Holly Edwards tried to put off the vote until important information could be discussed. She asked many excellent question but got NO support from City Staff and ended up giving in and caving to the pressure of all the other board members who kept pushing her to immediately approve the money.

Another example of why we need a totally new configuration of this board.

Mr. Frederick claims there is already a cost share agreement in place . The City absolutely should not agree to this . I would argue that all new dam expenses should be paid by the county who refuse to pay for the dredging studies. Hopefully the Councilors will stand up to the pressure from their own staff and the County .
If not we need a new council.


Mike, see the difference between a Bob Fenwick and a Kristin Szakos?

Disappointed does not begin to express my feelings after the lack of action taken by Council tonight to stop the 1.6 million dollar expenditure on a new dam design.

We can understand the need for the $500,000 to do the geotechnical field work, but why design the dam before you know if the rock is stable enough to build it ? And why go forward with no route or cost for the needed pipeline which could prove to be too costly to build ? I believe this is the same mistake that Gannett Fleming made and now Council is allowing it to happen again.

We need the dredging, pipeline , new calculations of the amount of water needed in 50 years, I-64 embankment information, and the geotechnical work on the rock at Ragged Mountain, before another penny is spent on a new dam design, or a propaganda campaign to convince us that dredging wouldn't work and a new dam will.

Oh, and did you notice they intend to build a cheaper dam by opening a quarry at Ragged Mt. How will the community of Ednam Forest and Camp Holiday Trails, for sick children, like that ? I doubt if blasting and dust will be welcomed.

I agree with Colette Hall's comments tonight at Council; decision making at City Council has reached a new low.

The powerful vested interests in the County will do anything, in my opinion, to get this dam built, so watch out ratepayers we're in for another round of misinformation, and this time coming from those allowed to speak by Mr. Frederick, Schnabel, while HDR is silenced.

I wasn't able to view the Council meeting tonight. What was the rationale they gave for not opposing this cart-before-the-horse waste of money?

Has anyone seriously looked into how the RWSA Board can be removed?

Reality Check, for one thing we can do for sure is to remove our current City Council. Vote Fenwick, (single shot remember!) and then vote for damn near anyone else who will run in the future. Although I'd say it's possible we could, it isn't likely we would get worse than we have now.

I'm sure many of you will remember I always say, "In Charlottesville, money is no object." If you remember, Frederick promised ACSA and RWSA last year that he planned to proceed with the design of the new dam by this November.
Now do you see why I say let us not form yet another authority in which the county can over rule the city? Let them buy services from the city at what ever cost the city determines or build their own, including transportation network.

At least it seems that Newport News and Stafford County have control over their water supply. Maybe we should invite them to reconstitute RWSA. It appears Stafford County's Utilities Department is in charge of its water and waste water http://staffordcountyva.gov/Departments/Utilities/Index.shtml the City of Newport News seems to be incharge of its Waterworks http://www.nngov.com/waterworks, although it supplies water to several localities.
Let's dissolve RWSA and have the County as the City's customer as UVA is.

What's another $2.1 million? I am more worried that they will come up with a bogus cost estimate that will way understate the cost of the dam and then try to use that to move forward. Then once the dam is built they will justify the pipeline at any cost because they have this big dam they spent $200 million on so they have to fill it.

Oh my god! I just read the rest of the article. They are going to spend $2.1 million and not even get a cost estimate.

Is this the plan Sally Thomas & Co endorsed? If so, once again it demonstrated her degenerative decision making abilities and perhaps a valid reason why she should not run again as Sup. Her recent votes have been very ambiguous and illogical.

I thought Aubrey Watts and Craig Brown indicated that Council had made it clear previously it's desire was NOT to proceed with the design process until it got certain answers from its studies. It has always been the desire of ACSA for the design to proceed inspite of any additional information, which it didn't want in the first place. I'll have to watch it again online. Too bad Council reappointed Mike Gaffney as the swing vote. How naive.

To answer a question posed above: forget about comparing the costs of maintaining the pipeline versus dredging. Try this on for size instead: Cost of waiting 40 years to start dredging the reservoir to get it back to original capacity=$40 million or $1 million per year. Cost of debt service for $150-200 million new dam and pipeline=$10 million per year. This is just for the interest on the money they'll have to borrow to build their legacy project. Charlottesville can say goodbye to its AAA bond rating when its on the hook for a quarter billion dollars to fund this project and water usage is still dropping.

By the way, anyone interested in seeing what a more transparent justification for a new dam looks like can go here:
The Stafford supervisors make clear that its all about ensuring future development to the tune of 40,000 new meters (customers, both residential and commercial)[Notice on page 27: "debt service to be paid by availability fees" (SO THEY ARE COUNTING ON MASSIVE NEW DEVELOPMENT TO PAY FOR THEIR DAM)]
I don't recall seeing one word in 32 pages about complying with some mandated 50 year State water supply plan.
And their water usage has gone UP for the last five years.

Other than the "grandchildren clause" no rationale has been provided by the proponents so nobody gets it.
Does anybody know if the Charlottesville representatives voted for the new design contract?

The rationale is this:
An abundant supply of water means a greater sustainable* level of residential and commercial development. period.
*not "sustainable" in the green sense.
It means Don Wagner, RWSA board member and partner in Great Eastern Managment gets to build North Pointe on 29N with a million square feet of stores that sell the same sh!t as every other store, and crappy townhouses just like every other "new urban" or "town center" development. Cant happen without public water.
It means Mike Gaffney, RWSA Chairman and owner of Gaffney Construction gets to build a sh!t load of overpriced mini mcmansions in new developments like Biscuit Run and whatever else is soon to come. Biscuit Runs can't happen without public water.
Abundant public water means lot sizes can be a tenth of an acre instead of ten or twenty acres, and therefore massive chunks of property can be rezoned to support 1,000 or 10,000 houses instead of 50 or 200. Can you even comprehend how much money can be made under circumstances like those? There are real estate stake-holders in this town who stand to gain greatly by marketing our quality of life to the next 100,000 people who move here.
Gary O'Connell and Aubrey Watts get to market Charlottesville as a place that isn't short on resources to big business. No being embarrassed when you're wining and dining some out-of-town CEO and you get served your food on paper plates at Fleurie because water restrictions are in place. No, that wouldn't work at all.
Judy Mueller gets to run a public works department with 250 employees instead of 100 (thats what she thinks, most of this growth will happen in the County)
I'll post this link again:
Its worth a complete read as its far more honest than anything we've heard from RWSA. Stafford is facing a water shortage. They are deciding to build a new dam. Is this to give them security? Peace of mind? HARDLY. They are going to pay for it by selling 40,000 new taps, at which point they will be right back where they started. Why? Because growing their residential and commercial tax base is the MOST IMPORTANT THING TO THEM. And in 30 or 40 years they'll need yet another new reservoir.

In the end, I wouldn't be surprised if RWSA does dredge the reservoir for capacity, its the most cost effective way to gain supply and they know it. But it will come AFTER the new dam, maybe 15 or 25 years from now when capacity at Ragged Mountain has been tapped out. Because while dredging now would give us water security, and peace of mind, it wouldn't allow unbridled new development on the scale they want. And thats more important to them.
Don't believe me? Ask them how they're going to pay for it.

I've been told that RWSA staff were compensated to keep quiet until the dam was the chosen plan --sure hope those people will step forward and stop this train wreck !