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

Published May 21, 2008 in issue 0721 of the Hook
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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.)



Betty Mooney5/22/2008 10:48:52 AM

Now that the public has been able to see both plans side by side, thanks to the Hook's excellent article, I hope the community will come together to support the least environmentally damaging most practical alternative. Why lose the Ragged Mt Natural Area if we don't have too?

What We Will Lose: Wilderness in Our Own Backyard

The Ragged Mountain Natural Area is a beautiful 980-acre park, owned by the city of Charlottesville and managed by the Ivy Creek Foundation as a city-county public natural area. Unique in the local park system, RMNA offers seven miles of trails through mature forest and rugged terrain rich in wildlife and history.

The Future RWSA Water Supply Alternative will raise the level of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir at RMNA 45 vertical feet by building a new 112 foot dam. This will require clearcutting 180 acres of parkland at RMNA. With those 180 acres, RWSA will:

* Flood 135 acres of mature forest that has been cited for its exceptional wildlife habitat by a Smithsonian study and Albemarle County Biodiversity Committee

In the summer of 2002, Dr. Matthew Etterson of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center conducted a research project on the effects of forest fragmentation on nesting success of Wood Thrush at several sites in the Piedmont, including Fernbrook, Humpback Rocks, Betsy Bell, Fortune's Cove, Natural Chimneys, Paul State Forest and Ragged Mountain Natural Area. He found that among all these sites, Ragged Mountain Natural Area proved to be not only the most productive, with a total of 64 nests, but also the site of greatest nesting success. Etterson attributed that success to the maturity of the forest and the protective topography of the land.

In the 2006 Albemarle County Biodiversity Report, the Ragged Mountains and Reservoir were cited as significant for unusual habitat that support species scarce in our area such as River Otter, Prothontary Warbler, and Wood Frog.

The Ragged Mountain Natural Area is Threatened

Wilderness in Our Own Backyard: A Birder’s Haven

Ragged Mountain Natural Area is first and foremost a wildlife sanctuary. The 980-acre preserve is almost entirely forested and relatively unspoiled.

Many rare and unusual wildlife species utilize the lakes and woods of the Ragged Mountain Natural Area for nesting, feeding, and migration stop-overs.

. To date, 135 bird species have been observed at Ragged Mountain Natural Area, making it a popular destination for bird watchers.

In addition 600+ acres of unfragmented forest of mature hardwoods - especially oak - offer excellent habitat for nesting neotropical migrants. Twenty species of migratory songbirds have been observed including Prothontary and Cerulean warblers. One spring morning, 12 species of wood warblers were observed near Round Top, including Cerulean, Black-throated Blue, Parula, and Blackburnian. That same morning, three singing woodland thrush species were also recorded: Wood Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, and Veery.

Forest songbirds have been in serious decline for several decades.

Please visit our web-site Cvillewater.info for directions to this pristine wilderness area minutes from downtown Charlottesville. See for yourself, and join us in trying to save the Ragged Mt. Natural Area for generations to come in a community of diminishing parkland

Jim5/22/2008 1:05:22 PM

The article has a section on the Official Plan titled "What's Environmentally Controversial," but not on the Alternate Plan. So there's NOTHING environmentally controversial about the Alternate Plan?

Why does the article consist primarily of "Lynch says..," "Lynch disputes.." "said Lynch," "Lynch says." I saw the meeting on TV, and there were a lot of other speakers and a lot of good points made in favor of the Official Plan. I don't know why I expected a fair report by the Hook on this meeting, but I guess I'll have to look for objective coverage somewhere else.

Kevin Lynch5/22/2008 1:53:11 PM

I suppose that what might be considered environmentally controversial about our plan is that we propose to increase the minimum instream flow of the Moormans river from 0.4mgd to a minimum of 2.0mgd and we have proposed additional ways that this can be increased

Unlike the current scheme, we do not propose to restore 'natural' flow of the Moormans. However what the current scheme accomplishes is not 'natural' flow. The watershed for the Moormans is high and steep, which means that the natural condition of the river is very flashy. During a storm it becomes a raging flood and then it slows to a trickle. While the current plan keeps the Sugar Hollow dam in place for flood control purposes, in a drought the water behind the dam is released into the river where it augments the natural flow on its way to the South Fork reservoir (picking up e coli, fertilizer, and other contaminants on its way). So rather than providing natural flow to the Moormans, the current scheme is more like a theme park river – not too dangerous when it rains and has an unnaturally elevated amount water when it would normally be dry.

I’m not sure why continuing to use the Moormans as our best source of drinking water is controversial, but it is. We have repeatedly been told by the Virginia Department of Health [8] that the Moormans river is by far our cleanest source of water and should be utilized to its maximum extent. All other sources of water in our system except the Moormans are rated “highly susceptible to contamination”. By diverting some of the Moormans while it is still clean, we have better quality drinking water and cheaper cost of treatment. It’s interesting that during all this debate about preserving the health of aquatic species, the health of human species has been totally ignored.

I do appreciate that you watched the meeting and agree that there were some good speakers on the other side. If there are any talking points from the Chamber/TNC/PEC that you think have merit, I would be more than happy to respond

Lumps5/22/2008 5:34:19 PM

For a more well round perspective on this debate,

especially the Monday night meeting visit:


Several other groups, such as SELC & RCS, also spoke in favor of the official plan, which seems to have been omitted from the Hook's article.

Kevin Lynch5/22/2008 9:35:52 PM

Thanks for the link. So according to Cvilletomorrow, here are the arguments from speakers supporting the current plan:

1) “Show leadership and continue to support the plan” Wow, that’s a compelling argument. Because we all know that a true leader follows the established plan, no matter how flawed it might be.

2) “The adopted plan is the “least environmentally damaging solution”” Maybe compared to the James River Pipeline, but not to our plan. Rivanna’s scheme clear cuts 180 acres of trees, inundates 14,033 linear feet of streams, lets the SFRR fill with sediment (until it starts dumping the sediment load over the dam and into the river below – a process our river loving friends now call “equilibrium”) and requires a 9 ½ mile trench through which a new river will be buried in a pipe. The electrical requirements of pumping this new underground river 300 feet uphill will require burning 1000 tons of coal annually. Other than the dredging, which requires a fraction of the energy of the pipeline, the only environmental impact of our plan is to restore the health of the South Fork reservoir.

3) “Money on dredging would divert money from capital improvements to increase reliable storage” Increasing the capacity of the South Fork Reservoir is the most reliable storage you can possibly get. What do you think is more reliable? Using chemicals to take the sediment out of the water and then pumping 25 million gallons of water uphill every day? Or gravity?

4) “Further delay would increase the construction costs, raising the price tag for the whole plan” Exactly. Rivanna has delayed on dredging for long enough. They said they were going to do the dredging when they raised our rates by nearly 100 percent. That is what Gannett Fleming was hired to do. If the Rivanna Board had done what they said when they took our money, the dredging would have been done by now and we wouldn’t have had to close the pools last summer. Get on with it already!

5) “Council need[s] to take steps to make sure there is enough clean drinking water for “our children and our children’s children.” No argument there. Our plan does that.

6) “Albemarle County and Greene County should do more to control sedimentation in the Rivanna River Basin “before one dime is spent on dredging” the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.” I’m sorry but that is ridiculous. Its like saying that you should do more to control the rain before spending one dime on painting your house. Sedimentation is not some sort of abnormal condition like a burst pipe that needs to be fixed. It has taken 42 years for the reservoir to partially fill with sediment. We could remove it in a less than a year if we wanted to.

7) “The community need[s] to decide what role it wanted that Reservoir to play before undertaking a dredging program.” Um, I thought the role we decided for Reservoir when we built it was to provide drinking water. When did that change?

8) “It is now our turn to invest in a plan that provides for at least the next 50 years, and we certainly hope more. We should bear this cost, and should be willing to bear this cost because it is our turn to bear it.” Wow! The developers couldnt have said it better. Who cares if we can do it cheaper! Higher water bills are our civic duty now! So what other 50 year costs are we now willing to bear because it is our turn? How about a new bypass? After all, the City built one. Isnt it the County’s turn now? And since we’re so flush with cash, why don’t we just pay for the next 50 years worth of development. Oh, wait. We’re already doing that.

9) “If you have to raise the dam part of the way, it doesn’t cost much more to raise it the rest of the way”. Ahh, but it does. Once you go beyond about 25 additional feet, then the only way to fill it without completely depleting the Moormans is with a 60 million dollar pipeline with huge annual operating costs

10) “The risks of not being conservative in your estimating [of future demand] are significant” First we have an option which can meet the inflated Rivanna demand number if that is what the community wants to do. Second, what is the point of conserving water if Rivanna is going to go out and build more infrastructure than we need anyway. Why should I get a rain barrel if Rivanna is going to charge me for enough water to build my own golf course?

I’m still waiting to hear a compelling argument in favor of the current scheme.

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