County Supervisors briefed on water and sewer issues; Whole Foods & Trader Joe’s may face added delays due to inadequate sewer capacity

By Sean Tubbs and Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Every three months, the Executive Directors of both the

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

(RWSA) and the

Albemarle County Service Authority

(ACSA) appear before the

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

to give an update on current water and sewer issues. Gary Fern, Executive Director of the ACSA, and Tom Frederick, Executive Director of the RWSA, made their latest visit on July 1, 2009, the first day of the new fiscal year.

One highlight of the meeting was Fern stating that the opening of both Whole Foods and the proposed Trader Joe’s for Albemarle Place may face further delays until the Meadowcreek sewer interceptor is replaced.

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Gary Fern, Executive Director of the ACSA

Gary Fern told the Board that the ACSA implemented a

four-tier rate system

on July 1st that encourages conservation by only charging the ACSA’s wholesale rate to residential and irrigation customers using less than 3,000 gallons a billing cycle. The second tier charges users at two times the wholesale rate, the third tier charges users at three times the wholesale rate, and the fourth tier charges at four times the wholesale rate. The fourth kicks in after 9,000 gallons are used.

“We hope our customers will understand how we developed the rate,” Fern said. “What we’re trying to do is encourage people to conserve and try to stay in that second-tier and third-tier.” Commercial users will still play a flat-fee for each 1,000 gallons. Apartment complexes also will pay a flat-fee because Fern said it was too complicated to determine individual family amounts in multi-family dwellings.


Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett) questioned whether it was good practice to not charge anything additional to customers who only consume enough water to keep them in the first tier.

“It just seems to me that every tier should contribute something towards administrative overheard,” Rooker said. “You could drive everyone down to the bottom tier and the system would go bankrupt.”

Fern pointed out that all ACSA customers pay a service charge, and administrative costs are included in that fee. He added that ACSA rates have generally been increased to help pay for new infrastructure and maintenance of existing lines.


Sally Thomas

(Samuel Miller) asked Fern if he was able to balance the ACSA’s budget for FY2010 based on the new rates. He responded affirmatively.


David Slutzky

(Rio) asked if there was a way to change the rate structure to make it more affordable for growth area residents who are not currently connected to the ACSA sewer system. Those homes could pay up to $7,647 to be connected under the existing fee structure. Fern said that the ACSA is considering terminating the local facilities charge, which could help reduce the one-time cost for those citizens. Fern said the ACSA will hold a public hearing on all of its connection charges in August.


Tom Frederick, Executive Director of the RWSA

Tom Frederick was on hand to update the Board on the status of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s many projects. First, he told Supervisors why the RWSA has decided to hire another firm to design the proposed new dam at the

Ragged Mountain Reservoir

. The decision is one of the outcomes that stems from the RWSA’s hiring of a panel of dam experts to revisit Gannett Fleming’s original design after its cost estimate more than doubled in September of 2008. He told the Board that he is aware of criticism in the community that, by dropping Gannett Fleming’s services, important data will be lost. Frederick said those fears are unfounded.

“We own all the work that we produce, so we have a right to request it all and we have received everything that we are aware of,” Frederick said. “Nothing has been lost in terms of the data and the information.” He acknowledged that the RWSA will likely have  the new designer provide their own analysis of the data collected by

Gannett Fleming


“We want to have someone who can give us the closest interpretation we can get to a pragmatic viewpoint that recognizes the safety and importance of the structure, but who is also looking for innovative and exciting ways to keep the costs as economical as possible,” Frederick said.


Ken Boyd

(Rivanna) pointed out that Gannett Fleming’s main role to date has been in leading the public input process that led to the adoption of the 50-year community water supply plan. Frederick said that was true, and added that the consultant also played a role in getting the permits from the Army Core of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

“The goal was to get a permit from both the state and federal agencies, something this community had never accomplished before in its previous water planning,” Frederick said. The permitting process began after the City Council and the Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the plan in June 2006.

Since then, the RWSA has responded to City Council and community interest in revisiting the dredging of the

South Fork Rivanna Reservoir

as a way to restore water storage capacity. In May 2009, the Board voted to issue an RFP for that purpose, and so far eight proposals have been received. They will be reviewed during a public meeting on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at the County Office Building South.

Frederick also reported that construction is under way for upgrades at the

Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant

, but he alluded to the possibility of Virginia not meeting the deadline for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay despite efforts to upgrade treatment plants.  He also said the

Meadowcreek sewer interceptor replacement

, which is still in the right-of-way acquisition process, could go to bid this fall with construction taking fourteen months after the winning bid is awarded.

Near the end of his briefing, Frederick reported that the RWSA was in the process of conducting a wastewater master plan with the City of Charlottesville and the ACSA. The idea is to better link the approval of new commercial and residential developments to the provision of sewer capacity. Inadequate sewer infrastructure has delayed both the

North Pointe


Albemarle Place

projects in Albemarle County.  By contrast, subsequent rezonings at Hollymead Town Center and Biscuit Run have included up-front written agreements for the developers to pay for their share of sewer infrastructure upgrades.

“The idea of the master plan is to plan to get ahead of the process so that things [like this] don’t happen again,” Frederick said. One of the obstacles to developing the plan will be to decide who is responsible for paying for efforts to prevent stormwater from getting into the sewer system, a problem known as inflow and infiltration.  Stormwater entering the sewer system increases the load at water treatment facilities.

Rooker asked what restrictions might be placed on new connections until the Meadowcreek Interceptor is complete. Frederick said that there is no additional capacity available until that project is finished.

“The system works very well under dry periods,” Frederick said. “But it is not always where we need it to be during wet weather periods.”


Click for a larger map of the interceptor’s alignment

Rooker asked if the new Whole Foods in the City on Hydraulic Road could be connected to the system before the

Meadowcreek Interceptor

is upgraded. He also mentioned that a Trader’s Joe grocery store is being proposed for Albemarle Place in the County. Gary Fern of the ACSA said if any one new customer submits a connection request to use more than 40,000 gallons a day, the ACSA must request that capacity from the RWSA. Fern said that at this time, that additional capacity is not there.

“At this point in time, if there is not capacity within the Meadowcreek Interceptor, they will not get an approval from the [ACSA],” Fern said. “We don’t want to be put in a position where we would grant approval to a development and then we have no place to put the wastewater.” Fern said grocery stores usually use produce more than 40,000 gallons of wastewater a day.

Rooker asked if Whole Foods, which will be built within Charlottesville’s city limits, would be in the same situation. Fern said he did not know the status of that project. Rooker said he wants to make sure that the County gets equal access to sewer capacity.  The

City Planning Commission approved a revised preliminary site plan

for the store just last month.

“The City has to go through the same process of requesting [capacity],” Fern said. Fern said he had not seen a site plan for Trader Joe’s yet. Frederick said he was also not aware of any requests from either Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

The Supervisors were informed at a

briefing in September 2008

that the sewer capacity should be available by December 2009, a schedule that was expected at the time to accommodate the new Albemarle Place development schedule.  The delays in the Meadowcreek Interceptor project mean the sewer capacity will now not be available until late 2010 or early 2011.