DEQ staff recommends approval of permit change for Ragged Mountain Dam


Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality staff have recommended that state officials approve a request to modify a permit for a new Ragged Mountain dam.

A permit for a new concrete dam was originally issued to the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority

by the DEQ in February 2008

, but it had to be modified because plans changed after

the cost estimate for the structure more than doubled


Cost-savings were achieved

by switching to an earthen dam


“The construction of a dam, regardless of the material used, continues to meet the purpose and need on which the project permit is based,” reads a report by DEQ staff for the State Water Control Board.

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That entity will consider the permit modification at its meeting on Dec. 14.

“The earth fill dam option avoids and minimizes any stream impacts from inundation, and does not significantly increase stream and wetland impacts from that originally authorized,” the report continued.

The Charlottesville City Council’s

February decision

to move forward with an earthen dam was based on a condition that the dam be built in two phases. That meant the RWSA also needed to specify how stream-flow release requirements into the Moormans River and Mechums River be phased as well. The first phase of the dam would increase the reservoir’s capacity to billion gallons of storage. If a second phase were constructed, the reservoir would have a total storage volume of billion gallons.

The DEQ classified the permit modification as a major one, which required a public hearing. That requirement was met in late September and around 50 people spoke.

The group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan had asked that DEQ both deny the permit modification and terminate the existing permit because of a claim that the RWSA inflated the amount of water demand the community would need in 2055.

A water demand analysis conducted by Gannett Fleming in 2004 concluded the urban water system would need to provide at least 18.7 million gallons a day of water by the year 2055.

A new demand analysis performed by the firm AECOM this year projected the community would need million mgd by 2060.

“DEQ has reviewed the permittee’s demand estimates and finds them to be reasonable methods to project future demand and that the estimated storage yield proposed to meet these future demands is reasonable,” reads the report.

Rebecca Quinn of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan disagrees with the interpretation of DEQ staff.

“If they actually looked at the new studies, I don’t see how they would come to the conclusions they came to,” Quinn said in an interview. “We hope they will recognize the consequences of approving a project that is no longer justified.”

“We are very pleased by the content of the DEQ staff report,” RWSA executive director Thomas L. Frederick said in an email.

“It is very thorough, documents all public comments well, and validates the work that RWSA has been doing over many years to assure adequate water for this community for years to come,” Frederick added.

Frederick said there is enough money in the RWSA’s capital budget to pay for construction of the dam.

Cost estimates for the construction and design for the first phase of the dam range from $18.3 million to $22.3 million, according to Chris Webster, an engineer with Schnabel.

The State Water Control Board will decide whether to grant the permit modification at its meeting on Dec. 14 in Richmond.

The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. and will be held in House Room C in the General Assembly Building in Richmond. The discussion of the permit is the second item on the agenda.

The RWSA issued a request for proposals for firms to build the dam in early November and will open bids on Dec. 8.

The RWSA board could award a contract at their next meeting on Dec. 28 but likely will not do so until an agreement is in place that specifies how Charlottesville and the Albemarle County Service Authority will share costs for its construction.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to approve a request to modify the permit they issued in June 2008.