By Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce

said Tuesday that the

50-year water plan approved in 2006

continues to have the support of the local business community. Its statement comes in advance of a critical public hearing being held Monday night at a Charlottesville City Council meeting.

“Somewhere along the way, the city lost its way,” said Timothy Hulbert, the chamber’s president, in an interview. “It started asking questions that really had already been answered.”

Review Charlottesville Tomorrow’s

Water Supply Decision Matrix

, an evaluation of many of the key criteria local leaders will be reviewing as they finalize a decision on the 50-year water supply plan.

“Our chamber finds itself compelled to once again reaffirm our support for a plan that incorporates the necessary regional water resources supply essential to our community’s future economic vitality,” Hulbert said. “We trusted that the debate ended with the 2006 votes, but in Charlottesville, unfortunately, even when things are over, they’re too often not over.”

Charlottesville Mayor

Dave Norris

said in an interview that he expected a lengthy public hearing Monday night and that he was unsure if there would be a vote that evening to endorse a specific plan.

“The city has to figure out what we want, and there is no clarity from the city because we are still in deliberation mode,” Norris said. “At the end of the public hearing, we will have a discussion and I don’t know where council is going to come down on this.”

The approved water plan, which officials at the

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

say has an approximate price tag of $142.6 million for several major capital projects, has been heavily scrutinized after questions were raised about the design and cost of a new dam and the merits of dredging an existing reservoir.

The RWSA is currently recommending

a new earthen dam

be built at the

Ragged Mountain Reservoir

, raising the water level by 42 feet. The expanded reservoir would be filled via a new pipeline connecting it to the

South Fork Rivanna Reservoir

. The existing 13-mile supply

pipeline from Sugar Hollow

, built in 1925, would be retired.

Rich Collins

, a representative of

Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan

, has advocated that the City Council pursue dredging before building a new dam.

“We do need decisive action,” Collins said in an interview. “We need to immediately get the water plan permit opened up to allow dredging. Dredging and conservation will provide all the water we need for the next 30 years.”

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, which, like the Chamber of Commerce, continues to support the 2006 plan, has said dredging alone would be insufficient to meet the water supply needs projected for the next 50 years.

However, Albemarle officials have also said dredging could be pursued in the future, separate from the water supply plan, when there are cost-effective opportunities to restore water storage capacity. This “opportunistic dredging” could improve recreational activities on the reservoir, and studies have indicated that some dredged material, like sand, could be resold, reducing the cost of dredging.

Norris has said that because of the challenge of accurately projecting long-term water supply needs, he is opposed to building the larger dam at Ragged Mountain and, like Collins, favors dredging. Norris is calling for the city to issue a request for proposals to get cost estimates on smaller-scale dredging operations.

“I think it will be very helpful to have ballpark figures on what this market-based approach to dredging would cost over some period of years,” Norris said. “As long as the $35 million number is floating out there for dredging, people … will say it is cheaper to build a new dam than to dredge and renovate and repair the Ragged Mountain Dam.”

A June study by HDR Engineering said one-time dredging of the South Fork could be accomplished for between $34 million and $40 million over seven years. The City Council

received a report last week

that said the existing Ragged Mountain Dam could be enlarged for between $21.4 million and $27 million.

In a media release, Rod Gentry, the chamber’s board chairman, said recent studies related to the water plan have not convinced the chamber to change its position.

“Despite all the extra study, additional public spending and never-ending debate, little has been added, and nothing significant has been demonstrated to cause our community to walk away from the 2006 unanimous public approvals of the water supply plan,” Gentry said.

Officials say any water plan will require the support of both Albemarle and Charlottesville to create a sufficient water supply for the localities’ jointly operated system.

“I have said on numerous occasions that it requires regional cooperation,” Norris said. “Even if we decide we want to dredge our reservoir, we need to get a permit from Albemarle County.”


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