By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, January 21, 2010


City of Charlottesville

will seek proposals to hire a new firm to determine a cost estimate for raising the existing

Lower Ragged Mountain Dam

by 13 feet as part of an amended community water supply plan. That was one of several decisions made by

City Council

on Tuesday following a briefing by the director of the

Rivanna Water Sewer Authority


Tom Frederick had suggested that the City agree to pay

Schnabel Engineering

to perform that work, but City Council agreed with citizens who argued that hiring that company would be a conflict of interest.

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Mayor Norris asks RWSA executive director Tom Frederick a question

Frederick was on hand to report on the progress of the many studies put into action following

November 2008


March 2009

meetings of the four boards with jurisdiction over the water supply.

Council also agreed to expand the dredging feasibility study currently underway to include work that will analyze whether the material brought up from the reservoir floor can be used commercially. The firm conducting the study,

HDR Engineering

, said it would not be able to deliver an accurate cost estimate for restorative dredging without that information. If the material has no commercial value, more land would be needed in order to store it. Though they took no formal vote, Council agreed to spend up to $24,932 on this aspect of the study.

Council also appointed Mayor

Dave Norris

to serve as the City’s representative on the


, replacing Councilor

Holly Edwards


Frederick updates Council on studies to revise or amend water supply plan

The RWSA is currently administering five studies related to revisiting the

fifty-year water supply plan

that was unanimously adopted by the

City Council

and the

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

in June 2006. A combination of citizen concerns and increased cost estimates for the plan’s components has kept the debate alive, resulting in these additional studies.

In May 2009, Council agreed to

pick up the cost

of these studies  after the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA)

declined to pay

for anything that did not pertain to the existing plan.

Frederick said these five studies will all be completed by this summer, allowing for the community to either proceed with the plan that has received federal and state permits or to proceed with a modified plan.

The studies are:

Council asked for guidance on additional studies

The South Fork Rivanna Reservoir was built in 1966

The first question was whether to proceed with a beneficial re-use study that would determine the commercial value of dredged material recovered from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Frederick reminded Council they had declined that portion of the study in October 2009 .

Councilor Satyendra Huja said he did not understand why the ACSA was refusing to pay for an equal share of the dredging feasibility study.

“In our mind, it’s for the benefit of the whole water plan, not just for the City of Charlottesville,” Huja said.

Councilor David Brown said he agreed with Huja’s sentiment, but reminded him that the county’s representation had a different philosophy.

“Their point of view would be that they don’t think the studies are necessary, and so why should they pay for them?” Brown related. “Our point of view is that they are necessary so we want to see them done. But their point of view is based on the fact that at one point in time we agreed we had a plan we all supported. City Council has become interested in looking deeper into whether it’s the best plan. I think other boards have not been convinced of that.”

During the negotiations over who would pay for the dredging feasibility study, the ACSA agreed to consider to paying the City back if the additional surveys resulted in a cheaper plan for the urban water supply. In November, the ACSA

discussed the possibility of contributing to the beneficial reuse study

, and could take the matter up again at their meeting Thursday.

Norris said he was the Councilor who had asked to have the beneficial reuse study removed from the study to save costs, but was willing to reconsider.

“If HDR strongly feels the beneficial reuse needs to be done and we can get the ACSA to help pay some of those costs, I’ll willing to have that reintegrated into the study,” Norris said.

Council opts to independently examine 13-foot expansion of Lower Ragged Mountain Dam

The second question Frederick asked was whether the RWSA should hire Schnabel to develop a cost estimate for adding 13 feet to the existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam (built circa 1908) instead of building a new dam that would raise the water level by 45 feet. He said Schnabel has proposed to do the work in two phases.

According to Frederick, the first phase, which would cost $188,000, would be a feasibility study to see if this could be done and would produce a “ballpark” estimate. Frederick said a second phase consisting of preliminary engineering would generate a more accurate cost estimate for this alternative. He also cautioned that this alternative might not fit within the framework of the federal and state permits allowing the adopted plan to proceed.


Albemarle County Service Authority

has said it would not contribute to a study of expanding the existing dam, according to Frederick.

“This is our property, it’s our dam, and we’re the only ones advocating for the exploration of this potential alternative,” Norris said. “If we want to see that alternative fleshed out, someone will have to pay for it. In the long run, this could conceivably save tens of millions of dollars.”

Frederick said the other alternative was for the City to hire its own firm to conduct that study. He cautioned that if Council took that route, the results would likely not come back until the end of this year and not concurrent with the other water supply studies now on-going.

At the beginning of the meeting, Betty Mooney of the group

Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan

said the City should not allow the same firm hired by RWSA to design the new dam to also conduct the develop a cost estimate of adding 13 feet to the existing dam.

“One of the mistakes [in developing the water supply plan] was hiring the same company to study dredging that studied building the dam when they then got the contract to build the dam, “ Mooney said. “I’m concerned we’re going to make the same mistake again.”

Norris was receptive to Mooney’s concern.

“I think it would behoove all of us to look at getting an objective third-party to conduct this study whose motives and processes cannot be questioned because there is a stake in the outcome,” Norris said. He proposed managing the project in-house with City staff.


David Brown

agreed and said the City might benefit by delaying the start of a study of the 13-foot extension until the dredging study, already underway, was completed.

“[Let’s] get some sense of the dredging feasibility study results before we commit to spending a lot of money on this study just to make sure that there are no big holes in dredging as an option,” Brown said.

The “Norris Plan,”

first put forward as a water supply alternative by Dave Norris in February 2009

, involves securing enough water storage to supply the community during the next fifty years through a combination of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, conservation, and increasing the existing Ragged Mountain Dam height by 13 feet.


Holly Edwards


Kristin Szakos

agreed to support the study of the 1908 dam. Council then directed City Public Works Director

Judy Mueller

to begin the procurement process to secure an independent firm, other than Schnabel, to evaluate adding 13 feet to the existing Ragged Mountain Dam.

Councilor Huja requested that Norris ask the entire RWSA Board if they would support paying for the study of the 13-foot alternative.

The RWSA next meets on Tuesday, January 26




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