By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Charlottesville Mayor

Dave Norris

said Thursday that studies requested by the City Council are providing new data that will result in a better solution for



Albemarle County’s

urban water needs.

“I think it’s essential that when we make a decision, that it be based on good, solid data,” Norris said during a presentation sponsored by the

Rivanna Conservation Society


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Mayor Norris (left) addressing the Rivanna Conservation Society

The mayor said community-wide support for the

50-year water supply plan

approved in 2006 has eroded after questions have been raised about several assumptions on which it is based. For example, he said a $223 million cost estimate provided by consultant

Gannett Fleming

for dredging the

South Fork Rivanna Reservoir

for water storage was too high.

Norris said he supports the general framework of the plan but questions whether the new dam at Ragged Mountain needs to be built at the maximum height allowed under the state and federal permits issued in 2008.

“We should do everything we can to avoid maximizing the size of that reservoir by building this large and costly new dam,” Norris said.

One supporter of the plan said she disagreed with Norris.

Liz Palmer, a member of the

Rivanna River Basin Commission

, said in an interview that the community could better withstand a future drought if the reservoir is expanded to the maximum allowed under federal and state permits.

“The more water we have in that reservoir, the better,” Palmer said.

Schnabel Engineering

will present a preliminary design and cost estimate on the new Ragged Mountain Dam in May. Also next month, another consultant will provide a new cost estimate for dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

Mayor Norris

Norris has also signaled he wants the

Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority

to begin work on calculating a new water demand analysis. A 2004 study conducted by Gannett Fleming projected the growing community would need 18.7 million gallons per day by 2055.

“The plan is based on data from the early part of the decade that projected we would be using today 25 to 30 percent more water than we’re actually using,” Norris said. “You do have to question whether that data should be revisited.”

The state Department of Environmental Quality is requiring all localities to prepare new demand projections by November 2011 in order to develop a statewide water plan. Norris wants that study performed now.

Rich Collins

, of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan and chairman of the RWSA in 2001-02, said the community has more than enough water and is learning to use less through more efficient technology.

“There is no emergency here for us,” Collins said.

The existing

Lower Ragged Mountain Dam

, built around 1908, is operating under a conditional-use permit because of safety concerns. The state dam safety division wants an answer by the end of August about how structural deficiencies will be addressed.

However, all of the information requested by Norris may not be available by then. The city is independently commissioning a study to determine whether the 1908 dam can be expanded as an alternative to building a new larger dam.

“Whatever solution we come up with is not going to please everyone,” Norris said. “I’m convinced that we can hopefully find a solution that pulls from the best of the various approaches that meets our long-term needs in a more cost-efficient and ecologically responsible way.”


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