The reservoir task force

created by the “Four Chairs”

at the urging of the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has held its first meeting. The South Fork Reservoir Stewardship Task Force spent two hours on August 12, 2008, getting a status report on the reservoir as its first step in a four month long process to determine whether or not it should be dredged.

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The meetings are being chaired by Albemarle County Supervisors

Sally Thomas

(Samuel Miller), who is serving in her capacity as a member of the League of Women Voters. After calling the meeting to order, she asked one of the “four chairs”, Michael Gaffney of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA), to read the charge that the task force has been given. Here’s what he said:

The dam at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir was completed by the City of Charlottesville in 1966, according to Gaffney, on land that was purchased in 1962.  The watershed for the dam is 259.1 square miles and is mostly entirely in the City of Charlottesville, and the current storage capacity is estimated to be 740 million gallons. Gaffney said that the dam’s engineers predicted that sedimentation would cause the loss of 19.6 million gallons of water per year.  However, he said the actual figure has been an average of 15 million gallons a year.

Thomas said the purpose of the task force’s first meeting was to get a snapshot of what is currently known about the health of the SFRR. The first hour and a half was spent hearing from experts who spoke about the reservoir’s current recreational and physical health.

John Kaufmann

The first speaker was John Kaufmann of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. He said that the SFRR is the largest public water body in the area, and is extremely popular with fishermen despite only a few public access points. Kaufmann said the reservoir contains channel catfish, large-mouth bass, blue gill, and other self-sustaining species. However, he said sedimentation is increasing turbidity, which will affect the food chain. He concluded by saying that the SFRR does not have an overabundance of aquatic plants that would affect drinking water or recreational uses.

“If you have too many plants, then it provides too much coverage for the fish, and it’s too hard for anglers to get to,” Kaufmann said.

Pat Mullaney, the County’s Director of Parks and Recreation, said that fishing is the most recognized public use of the SFRR. He also said that the County has been looking for ways to increase public access to the reservoir for several years, and he recounted many of the failed attempts to do so. As part of one of those efforts, the County took a sticker count of the various cars that were parked around the reservoir over several weeks in 1995, and estimated that 41% of anglers hailed from Albemarle County, 23% from Charlottesville, and the rest from other jurisdictions.

“Even though we have a body of water that doesn’t have good formal access, 36% of the users at that time were coming from a good distance away,” Mullaney said. “That’s the quality of the fishery that we have here.”

Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher, who is representing the University of Virginia’s recreational interests on the reservoir, encouraged the group to plan a field trip to see for themselves the effect of sedimentation. UVA Rowing Coach Kevin Sauer told him that sedimentation has reduced the amount of room the rowing crews have to move in the reservoir. He said there are areas that become over-vegetated at certain parts of the year, which hinders oars.

“We’re losing something out of it every day,” Fletcher said. He said the task force would need to speak to Sauer to get the full details. To get them, the task force agreed to schedule a field trip to the reservoir as its next meeting.

After hearing about two recreational uses of the reservoir, the task force was briefed on water quality issues by Bob Wischer, the RWSA’s Director of Operations. He said the SFRR met standards for drinking water regulations, though he said that the reservoir is prone to algae blooms due to the presence of excessive nitrogen and phosphorous. As far as the biological make-up, Wischer said that warm water fish, turtles and aquatic mammals are “widely found” although a fresh water jelly fish has recently been observed as an invasive species.

Bob Wischer

Wischer also reviewed what is known about the chemical make-up of the sediment on the bottom of the reservoir. He said there is limited information about the presence of heavy metals and pesticides, but that the drinking water quality passes 100 percent of the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Another important question is the physical make-up of the sediment, and again, Wischer said there is limited data.

Next, RWSA Chief Engineer Jennifer Whitaker traced the history of previous bathymetric studies, which are done to map the conditions on the bottom of a river or lake. She said there have been six surveys taken since 1967, each of which had a varying degree of detail. The technology involves taking measurements called transects at several different sections of a water body, and then averaging it in order to obtain the volume. The more transects that are measured, the more accurate the measurement.

The 1988 study was done with 27 transects, and the 1994 study was done with 47 transects. To get to within 2 to 3 percent accuracy, Whitaker estimated that as many as 363 transects would be needed, at great expense. However, the existing studies clearly track the decline in the SFRR’s volume over time.

“When the dam was sited, it was understood that sedimentation would be coming in and you’d be losing volume over time,” Whitaker said. She added that the pool created by the dam was designed with both a usable storage zones near the top of the pool, as well as “dead storage areas” where the sediment was supposed to go. Unfortunately, because the long and narrow SFRR has the characteristics of both a lake and a river, the sedimentation patterns are unpredictable.

“We don’t have a good definition of how much is in the usable volume, and how much is in the dead storage where it was intended to drop out,” Whitaker said.

Finally, the task force heard from Tamara Ambler, the County’s Natural Resources Manager, on efforts the County has been making to address the sedimentation issue. She started by reminding the task force of the County’s comprehensive plan, which splits the county’s land into development (5%) and rural area (95%).  However, she said the County also has a “fairly robust” program to control erosion and sedimentation where any project over 10,000 square feet has to develop a plan to limit sediment  migration into the watershed. There’s also a stormwater management program, as well as the adoption and expansion in February of a stream buffer ordinance to preserve 100 feet on both sides of streams.

“A buffer of a 100 feet is said to achieve a 75% reduction in sediments and a 40% reduction in nutrients,” Ambler said.


The 13-member task force will next meet on a field trip to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir

There were to be no actions taken at this meeting, except for house-keeping about how the task force should proceed. After the presentations, Thomas asked several questions to get the discussion rolling.

“At what point do we want to have public input? Do we want to have it as the usual type of public hearing where everyone stands up for three minutes, or do we want to have a facilitated visioning process in which people get to talk about what they want to see in this reservoir?”

Liz Palmer, a member of the Albemarle County Service Authority Board of Directors, said she wanted to have more information before opening up the task force to public input. Specifically, she wanted more information on a device called a forebay which is supposed to keep sediment out of a waterway. Palmer also wants the task force to hear from a hydrologist about how water circulates throughout the reservoir, in order to better understand where the sediment goes.

Dede Smith, representing the Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, said she wanted more information on dredging, and suggested the other task force members

listen to the podcast of a May 5 meeting her group facilitated on dredging


Bob Hodous, representing the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, as Chairman Chris Lee’s alternate, said he wanted more information on how much a bathymetric survey would cost, and what information it would deliver.

Thomas said the dredging consultants she had talked to said that before dredging is undertaken, they would need to why. She said that was one of the goals of the task force, and she suggested the public can help with that.

John Martin, another member of the Albemarle County Service Authority who is representing the Rivanna River Basin Commission on the task force, said he wanted to get out on the water in order to see the wetlands forming in Ivy Creek due to the sedimentation.

“But in other areas of the reservoir, there may be some sand bars building up,” Martin said. “What’s out there? There might be different problems in different areas of the reservoirs and different solutions.”

Mike Gaffney said he wanted to revisit one issue raised when the RWSA was considering raising the pool of the SFRR by adding a four-foot bladder to the top of the dam. He said that there was a concern that increasing the dam height would flood the existing wetlands that have been created, something that the DEQ might not approve.


Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett), representing the Board of Supervisors, said it would be helpful to have a panel of experts give them a picture of what can be done to increase capacity at the SFRR under existing EPA and DEQ regulations.

Ridge Schuyler of the Nature Conservancy said he wanted more information on where sedimentation is coming from, not only to stop it from getting into the reservoir, but to stop it from coming downstream at all. He also wanted more measurement of the “human uses” such as fishing and rowing “so that we can determine when we go to steward the reservoir to meet those uses, we have a very clear idea of what we’re stewarding the reservoir to achieve.”

Bob Hodous asked if the task force should evaluate potential sites to place the dredged spoil material. Thomas said that someone would have to make that determination, but she wasn’t sure that was a subject for the group. Rooker said that might be up for the potential dredger to provide as part of the eventual RFP that will be released.

Karen Joyner of the Ivy Creek Foundation said there was a lot to think about before the task force even takes up dredging in a substantial way. She seconded Schuyler’s request for more information on how many people are fishing on the reservoir, as well as more numbers on the amount of fish in the water. Joyner also wanted more information on any stream restoration efforts currently underway.

Thomas said she wanted more information on a process called dry-dredging, where the water level of the reservoir might be dropped temporarily. That process would require the expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

David Kudravetz, replacing representative of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir neighborhood , said he would want to see a cost in 2008 dollars of how much it would cost to duplicate the SFRR if it were built today. Rooker said that point was moot because the DEQ will never again allow a reservoir that captures a running waterway except in dire emergencies.


Consensus was not reached on how to handle public comment throughout the task force’s mandate.

City Councilor

Holly Edwards

said she thought the task force should take public comment early in the process, perhaps at the next meeting. Dede Smith said that she thought there should be a limited time for public input at all meetings of the task force. Rooker said that it would be best to have one specific meeting at which public comment would be taken, saying that he didn’t want the task force’s limited time to be taken up fully by public comment. Palmer said she could interpret public comments better if she has more information.

Thomas said the committee did not immediately have to decide the issue, but suggested the group hold another information meeting in about a month. She said she would like to see a more interactive public input period, similar to how the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is handling the public participation process for the creation of the next long-term transportation plan. During their one-day summit on May 10, the public was invited to weigh in on specific questions, rather than reading their three-minute comments into the record.


Sean Tubbs


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