Albemarle water authority updated on earthen dam

By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, February 18, 2011


Albemarle County Service Authority

was briefed Thursday on several aspects of the evolving community water supply plan, including the progress of the design for a new earthen dam for the

Ragged Mountain Reservoir


“The actual design work is probably 90 percent to 99 percent complete,” said

Gary O’Connell

, executive director of the ACSA.

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O’Connell said that because most of the design for the dam structure has been completed,

Schnabel Engineering

is now focusing on smaller items, such as electronics that control the dam’s operation.

Schnabel has until mid-April to finalize the design for the structure

to meet a state deadline

imposed on the

Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority

to demonstrate it is addressing safety concerns.

ACSA Board members Richard Carter, Clarence Roberts and David Thomas

State dam safety officials identified problems with the Lower Ragged Mountain Dam, originally built in 1908, which have been unresolved since inspections in 1978. A key component of the 2006 water plan is a new dam that will eliminate the public safety risks.

The ACSA agreed to pay for the design of the earthen dam

to keep the project on schedule when the city of Charlottesville and the county could not agree on a path forward. In all, the ACSA has agreed to pay up to $869,000 for the work.

Schnabel is also preparing applications to modify permits issued in 2008 by the Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers, but they need two key decisions to be made before they can be submitted.


City Council

is expected to decide Tuesday night whether it will endorse the earthen dam design,

which is preferred by Albemarle officials


Another remaining question is whether the dam will be built to allow a 42-foot rise in the reservoir’s pool,

or the 30-foot rise that the council has previously said it prefers


“The design that Schnabel is working on can accommodate either,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell also briefed the ACSA on three additional studies for the earthen dam that will be required to satisfy federal and state regulations. They are a $58,350 update to the dam’s “emergency action plan” required by the Virginia Department of Conversation and Recreation, a $16,553 historic resources survey and a survey to determine how bats will be affected by the tree clearing.

All three items will be on the agenda for the RWSA’s next meeting, but O’Connell sought authorization for the ACSA to potentially fund some or all of the additional studies if the RWSA board does not move them forward.

“To keep things moving, we need to do this work,” O’Connell said.

While not part of the community water supply plan, the RWSA is considering a public-private partnership

to perform maintenance dredging

of the

South Fork Rivanna Reservoir

, which would allow the agency to obtain dredging services without doing a typical request for proposals.

“[City Council] wants to explore dredging and this is probably the only practical way to [determine] what dredging could occur, what the cost would be [and whether] you do it in an opportunistic way,” O’Connell said.

ACSA Board Member

Liz Palmer

was skeptical.

“My concern is that it may sort of extend this inability for us all to make a decision on how much we’re going to dredge,” Palmer said. “It sort of keeps everything open-ended.”

O’Connell said this bidding approach would allow more flexibility, as well as the ability to find out whether it would be financially viable for a firm to remove sediment from the reservoir. He said there is no money in the RWSA’s capital budget to proceed with dredging, so some amount of private investment might be required.

At the end of the regular meeting, the ACSA met in executive session to discuss the cost-sharing allocation agreement for other elements of the community water supply plan.

“The first order of business is to get an agreement on the project we’re going to build so we can move forward together,” O’Connell said in an interview. Currently, the RWSA is working off a 2003 agreement that has the county responsible for 73 percent of capital improvements, with the city paying for the rest.

O’Connell also warned the ACSA board that its wholesale wastewater charges from the RWSA could be as much as 10 percent higher in the upcoming fiscal year. The increase is due to capital costs related to the upgrade of the

Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant

and the replacement of the

Meadow Creek sewer interceptor


In other news, the ACSA agreed to enter into a credit agreement with the developers of the planned 97-unit

Hyland Ridge

subdivision on



Southern Development

had anticipated partnering with the developers of the 330-unit Cascadia subdivision to construct a $649,000 sewer line. However, that project is no longer under active development.

By entering into this agreement, the ACSA will essentially partner with Southern Development to extend sewer service to Hyland Ridge.

The ACSA also agreed to pay $25,000 to oversize a sewer line that National College is building to serve its new facility on U.S. 29. The college only needs a line with an 8-inch diameter pipe, but future ACSA customers would be able to take advantage of a larger one. ASCA policy is to pay the cost difference between the two sizes.