Most of the members of the South Fork Reservoir Stewardship Task Force are in agreement that a feasibility study should be conducted to assess dredging opportunities at the reservoir. However, they continue to disagree on why and when such a study should be conducted.
The discourse came during the task force’s penultimate meeting on December 8, 2008. For two and a half hours, the group reviewed the finer points of a straw-man proposal put forth by task force member Tom Jones which recommended that dredging should be conducted to preserve the long-term ability of the reservoir to act as storage capacity for the community’s public water system.
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Since the last meeting
, Jones had extensive conversations with each task force member to get their opinion and crafted a new proposal accordingly. His plan assumes that the adopted 50-year water supply plan will go forward, but that dredging should be considered “in the near future” for two primary reasons.
First, the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir should be maintained for the water supply to ensure its restored capacity is available after the adopted 50-year water plan is fully implemented. Dredging sooner would prevent the formation of additional wetlands that could prove more difficult to remove in the future due to federal protections.
Second, dredging now would provide an “insurance policy” of extra water capacity while the pipeline between the South Fork and Ragged Mountain reservoirs is designed and constructed. To facilitate the process, Jones said a feasibility study should be done along the lines of what dredging firm Gahagan & Bryant has suggested. He said that since the last major drought in 2002, the South Fork Reservoir has lost more capacity. If the Sugar Hollow pipeline that fills Ragged Mountain today fails before it is retired, the community might have capacity issues before the adopted water plan is completed.
(Jack Jouett) said that before a feasibility study goes forward, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) needs to establish whether or not new land formation in the reservoir would be considered wetlands. He also said it was belief that the four Boards are expecting the task force to recommend a study.
“Personally I’m in favor of at least obtaining the information [via a feasibility study] so we better understand the parameters of how that can be done, whether [dredging] be a little bit at a time or all at once,” Rooker said.
John Martin, a member of the Albemarle County Service Authority’s Board of Directors but representing the Rivanna River Basin Commission, said he was troubled by the idea of dredging now to eliminate emerging wetlands. He said a feasibility study should be conducted closer to the time the community is ready to dredge, but for now, the ACSA and the RWSA only have the money to build the community water supply plan. Martin said he could support dredging for rowing, but that was not within the purview of the ACSA or the RWSA. He suggested that the University of Virginia pay for some of the costs.
Mark Fletcher, representing UVA’s athletic interests, says the University sees the reservoir as a community resource but that because the reservoir was not created for the purpose of rowing, UVA would need to evaluate other options if it silts in. Fletcher said it is not necessary to dredge for rowing at this time, but he recommended commissioning a feasibility study to give decision-makers more information.
Liz Palmer, another ACSA Director, said that today’s ratepayers should not have to finance preemptive dredging that would only be useful outside the time-line of the adopted water supply plan. She also questioned whether a feasibility study for recreational dredging would cost $275,000 because of a smaller scope of work. Palmer also said that dredging for restored water capacity would not be a priority in the ACSA or RWSA’s Capital Improvement Program for the foreseeable future given the need to upgrade other aging infrastructure. She said any money the RWSA might spend to dredge could be used to design and build the South Fork Pipeline sooner.
Mike Gaffney, chair of the RWSA, said if a feasibility study is done, the City and the County will make the final decision. He acknowledged that some water capacity gains would be made if dredging is done for recreational or aesthetic reasons, but said the RWSA’s ability to pay for that dredging would be conditional on how its capital costs could be reduced.
“I’m guessing at that point we can look at how much storage capacity that would add and then we may be able to reduce the height of the [new Ragged Mountain] dam,” Gaffney said. “And if we reduce the height of the dam, we know [there will be cost reductions]. And I would suggest at that point, [RWSA] could contribute the savings of the reduction in the dam towards dredging. The remainder of the cost of dredging needs to come from the community.”
Ridge Schuyler of the Nature Conservancy stressed the importance of telling the “four Boards” why dredging would be performed.
“The ‘why’ becomes the scope of work which then narrows the focus of the feasibility study which then, we hope, reduces its costs,” Schuyler said.
Dede Smith of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan agreed that the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir should be dredged now to make sure it can remain a “large body of water” into the future.
City Councilor Holly Edwards said she did not understand why the dam at South Fork could not be removed after the new Ragged Mountain Dam is built. She said she recommended a dredging feasibility study to take care of the river’s health and joked that she had attended way too meetings to not recommend one.
Mike Gaffney said if the community wants to design a reservoir as an asset to the community with both recreational and water storage capacities, a dredging feasibility study should be conducted. He said what happens with the study will be up to the community at large, and not the RWSA.
Karen Joyner, representing the Ivy Creek Foundation, said she wished that the task force had spent more time discussing how to prevent sediment from getting into the reservoir. She was skeptical that a feasibility study would be money well-spent, and supported issuing a recommendation with a wide range of scenarios to preserve the reservoir.
“I don’t think it’s a capacity issue, it’s more of a community asset,” Joyner said. She said there are other maintenance issues that could be addressed without dredging.
Christopher Lee, representing the Chamber of Commerce, agreed that one reason to dredge now would be to mitigate the risk that the reservoir would be available in 60 years for water storage. However, he said he was not sure if that was a valuable risk and that if the community really needed it then, federal regulators would allow it. However, he questioned whether dredging was really a maintenance issue, given that other methods could be undertaken to stop the growth of hydrilla and to remove obstructions. He also asked whether the community should commit funds to a study now if actual dredging might not take place for many years.
“The timing of it is up to the elected officials to decide when and how much they would spend on such a review,” Lee said.
Schuyler said the feasibility study needed to be as specific as possible to give the four chairs more guidance. He said the community would need to determine if dredging the wetlands would be worth the benefits to the community given the high cost of mitigation.
“All those people who want to dredge for capacity, because they think it’s cheaper are going to find out that they are wrong by quite a substantial amount,” Schuyler said. He said the feasibility study should be limited to dredging for recreational purposes and investigating disposal sites should be a priority.
The task force members will now review the various recommendations and discuss them via e-mail before their final meeting on December 18, 2008.
“I’m very optimistic that we can actually come up with something,” Thomas said. “And we don’t have to have 100% agreement… and we may [not have] that because there are different ideas around this table.”
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