Albemarle supervisors ask city to endorse earthen dam for water supply

By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

will send a letter to the

Charlottesville City Council

this week that explains why it prefers replacing the existing

Lower Ragged Mountain Dam

with an earthen structure, as opposed to building on top of the existing concrete dam.

Some city councilors expressed concern

at Monday’s council meeting

that the county board had not scheduled a time to review the latest report from

Black & Veatch

, the firm hired by the city to design a retrofit of the existing dam, which was built in 1908.

“We have individually and collectively reviewed the information provided by Black & Veatch at various times, including their most recent [presentation] to Council on February 7,” reads a draft copy of the letter. “The Board has a number of concerns with adopting the concrete dam approach.”

Download the Board’s letter to Council

The dam has been a key sticking point between the city and county as the two continue to seek agreement on the best approach for the community’s 50-year water supply plan.

Reasons for the board’s position include a concern that the final design for a concrete dam would not be ready in time to meet an April 30 deadline imposed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. Schnabel Engineering’s design for an earthen dam is expected to be ready by mid-April.

Other concerns include the number of cement trucks that will be necessary to carry the aggregate for concrete up Reservoir Road, and the possible risks of building on a structure originally built over 100 years ago.

The letter concludes by asking the council to officially support an earthen dam at its next meeting on Feb. 22.


Kenneth C. Boyd

said he wanted the letter to also assert the county’s preference for building a dam in one phase. Council’s preference is to first build a dam that would initially raise the pool height at the reservoir by 30 feet. Schnabel engineers have claimed 99 percent of the cost of a full-height dam would be expended to build just the first phase.

The total cost of a two-phase concrete dam would be $21.2 million to $26.7 million, based on the preliminary design concept. Last month,

Thomas L. Frederick Jr

., executive director of the

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

, said that from this point forward an earthen dam would cost between $24.8 million and $28.4 million to complete.

“[It’s] a total mismanagement of funds if we don’t go ahead take that 1 percent more and build that dam to the 42-foot [pool] height,” Boyd said.

But other supervisors wanted to conduct negotiations with council one step at a time.

“I would like to just get one decision about the earthen dam first and then in the next week’s discussion work on the height,” said Supervisor

Ann Mallek



Dennis S. Rooker

said he also agreed with Boyd, but added it was important to work with the city.

“We have a partner, and we have to move along in a way that we feel like we can bring our partner with us,” Rooker said. “I’m convinced after hearing City Council meetings and talking with various [councilors] that we may not be able to get to the 42-foot initial pool.”

Boyd also objected to claims by some city councilors that building the full height of the dam now would not encourage conservation.

“This is America, and a free-market system, and if it makes sense to conserve on what you use for water, then that’s an individual decision,” Boyd said. “It’s not up to government to dictate that to you.”

Rooker took Boyd’s point one step forward, pointing out that the

Albemarle County Service Authority

provides an incentive for its customers to conserve by having a tiered system of water rates. The first 3,000 gallons used by a customer are charged at the wholesale rate the ACSA is charged by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.