By Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, May 27, 2011

After several years of debate about the decision to secure the community’s long-term water supply needs through the construction of a new dam and pipeline, the

Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority

now finds itself in the middle of another study of the region’s water needs.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is requiring localities to submit a comprehensive water supply plan by Nov. 2. One element of the plan will be a new study of the region’s 50-year water needs.

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About 25 people, mostly Charlottesville residents, came to a public input session Thursday to learn about the project and the process for calculating a new water-demand forecast.

“Previous conversations in this community about water…have focused on building a project for the urban water system, and those conversations led to the decision to build a new Ragged Mountain dam,” said Mike Gaffney, the RWSA chairman, in a media release.  “This focus is different. It’s a new conversation that is not about a dam or any other project focus; it is instead about regional, comprehensive planning, focused on water.”

Rebecca Quinn, with

Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan

, insists the conversation is still about the dam, which the RWSA says it expects to start building by the end of 2011. Quinn says the community has a responsibility to adjust the water plan based upon the study’s findings.

“They don’t intend to use the results to revisit anything about the approved water supply plan,” said Quinn in an interview.  “They say the plan is adopted. I challenge that position.”

“We have not passed the irrevocable line on the water plan,” Quinn said. “We believe that if this new demand analysis, which we think is being done very well, if it shows our 50-year need is really different, we do have a responsibility to reevaluate our plans.”

RWSA officials and water plan activists have been debating the requirements of the state-mandated process for the past couple of years.

Thomas L. Frederick Jr.

, RWSA’s executive director, said Thursday that the new study would provide helpful data that could impact the phasing of the water plan.

“The results of this analysis will definitely be considered with respect to the rate we implement different facilities within the approved water supply plan,” said Frederick in an interview.

The almost $140 million community water plan, originally approved in 2006, was based primarily upon water demand analyses completed in 1997 and 2004. To meet the projected 50-year needs, Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors agreed in February to build a new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir for water storage. A new supply pipeline from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir would be built later to help keep it full.

The RWSA has hired AECOM, a global engineering firm and fortune 500 company, to analyze historical water use and project future water needs. The research involves all water users, including those on private wells and public water users in both Crozet and Scottsville.

Since 2007 opponents of the new dam, which would inundate nearly 100 acres in the Ragged Mountain natural area when the water level is raised 30-feet, have said that older demand estimates are overstated and that the community can spend less money on a smaller water supply that emphasizes dredging and conservation.

Quinn said if any dam is going to be built it should be a smaller concrete extension of the 1908 lower Ragged Mountain dam.

“The beauty of the concrete dam is that we can [raise it incrementally] and pay for it when it’s needed, rather than all at once now,” Quinn said. “Then we have another 10, 20, 30 years of enjoyment of all the trees at Ragged Mountain.”

Tom Olivier spoke as chair of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club. He encouraged the AECOM consultants to consider the community’s interest in environmental protection and sustainability.

“We think it’s feasible that this community would support stronger water conservation measures, readily, than would many communities in many parts of the United States,” Olivier said. “We ask that…you consider using more aggressive conservation programs.”

“We also think it’s plausible that the growth rate of our population may decline over time in the face of the fact that our environment is limited,” Olivier added. “We ask that in the scenarios that you model you include some which include a declining rate of population growth.”

AECOM will present its initial findings at community meetings being held July 11 and 12. Their final report will be completed in September.

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