By Brian Wheeler
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Representatives from four local environmental groups met Friday with the head of the Department of Environmental Quality to make their case for the water supply plan approved in February by Albemarle and Charlottesville.
, the same groups held a news conference to share new information, which they said proves that dredging alone is insufficient to provide water for both human and environmental needs.
“Our message to [DEQ] was that our five environmental groups strongly support the approved city-county water supply plan,” said
, executive director of the
Rivanna Conservation Society
. “It provides water for people, protects our rivers and costs less than the dredge-only plan, which does none of these.”
Savage was joined at the meeting by representatives from
The Nature Conservancy
Southern Environmental Law Center
League of Women Voters
. The fifth environmental organization in the pro-water plan coalition is the
Piedmont Environmental Council
The organizations said they remain fully committed to the goal of increasing stream flows in the Moormans and Rivanna rivers, a benefit they said state regulators also will insist be addressed in any water plan.
“What we learned from DEQ today was that they want to see the same level of river protection in the permit modification as what we have right now [in the approved water plan],” said
, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy in Virginia and a member of the
Albemarle County Service Authority
board of directors.
“State law requires that in developing local water supply plans, that they be designed to meet human needs for water while protecting the river and the aquatic wildlife,” added Rick Parrish, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Scott Kudlas, a DEQ director responsible for surface and groundwater planning, confirmed his participation in the meeting, which took place at DEQ Director David K. Paylor’s office in Richmond.
The DEQ has previously informed the
Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority
that the water plan, which now features an earthen dam built in phases, is a major change to the plan DEQ first authorized in 2008. In an interview, Kudlas said the meeting Friday focused on the process for reviewing the permit modifications, but not the merits of the current request from the RWSA.
Thomas L. Frederick Jr.
, executive director of the RWSA, said his staff had been responding to “minor questions” from DEQ about the permit changes.
“The DEQ will schedule a public hearing and a time for public comments,” Frederick said. “I don’t know the dates yet, but I know there is interest on both the part of the RWSA and the DEQ to resolve this issue by the end of the year.”
The lobbying comes in the midst of a hotly contested Democratic primary battle for the City Council. With construction on the new earthen dam delayed by the DEQ’s ongoing review, the fall election will shape the city’s position on the future of dredging, the dam and the entire water supply.
Parrish said he left the meeting with the impression it would take four to six months before the DEQ’s review would be completed. On that schedule, the water plan still will be in flux until after a new majority of the City Council has been elected in November.
The water plan has become a major issue separating the candidates running for three seats on the council. At a
Democratic candidate forum last week
all indicated they favor dredging and conservation as the primary approach for the water plan.
indicated a preference for the earthen dam.
Cost estimates for dredging the
South Fork Rivanna Reservoir
from Gannett Fleming in 2004 and 2008, and from HDR Engineering in 2010, indicate that dredging will be more expensive than the construction of the earthen dam at Ragged Mountain and produce much less water supply storage.
HDR Engineering said a one-time, seven-year dredging project could be done at South Fork for about $34 million to $40 million. With continued sedimentation at South Fork, the environmental groups said Friday that any effort to continuously dredge and maintain the original volume of the 1966 reservoir for the entire 50-year period of the water plan would be two to three times as expensive.
The RWSA continues to work with HDR to explore maintenance dredging of South Fork as a project separate from the water plan, last month budgeting $3.5 million for dredging at least a small portion of the reservoir.
has endorsed three of the four candidates who favor dredging — Smith, Blount and Cannon. In February, Norris was on the losing end of the
3-2 council vote
that approved the water plan negotiated with the county. Supporting the plan at the time were Huja, along with
. Brown is not running for re-election and Szakos and Norris are only midway through their four-year terms.
At the candidate forum, Galvin asked Smith to explain how a water plan without a new dam for water storage would impact the stream flow goals included in the approved plan.
“Those requirements were determined by scientists throughout Virginia examining the needs of aquatic wildlife, and the state DEQ has to consider those environmental needs, along with human needs, when issuing or denying permits,” Galvin said. “Aren’t you just claiming that the facts about environmental needs should be ignored just because those facts show that a dredging-only water plan won’t work?”
“I feel that … improved stream flows at the Moormons River should be addressed separately from the water plan,” Smith responded. “I do not feel that it is necessary to tie them to the water plan, but when they are, that means that city rate payers … are basically paying for a river restoration project.”
“I absolutely support restoring and improving stream flows in the Moormons River,” she said, “just not under the scenario that they have it now.”