The task force created to explore dredging opportunities and community uses of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir has voted 11-2 to adopt a final report that accepts the fundamentals of the adopted 50-year community water supply plan, calls for an investigation of encroaching wetlands that could be dredged in the future, recommends an ongoing dialog with UVA and other recreational users, and calls for “selective dredging” only after “purposes, priorities and specifically identified areas have been established.”

The final report also states that since the water supply plan already addresses the sedimentation of South Fork and its shrinking storage capacity by calling for an enlargement of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, the “lost storage capacity [at South Fork] is not a reason to dredge or slow sedimentation, but it is undeniably a benefit created by dredging or slowing sedimentation undertaken for whatever reasons.”

The two task force members who voted against the report said they would release a minority report that will call for a full set of studies to be conducted to prepare for a complete dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.  That step was viewed by the majority of the task force as a decision to be made by the accountable public officials who “should determine whether the benefits of any measure to maintain the reservoir are worth the cost of that measure.”  Opponents of the water supply plan have argued that the cost-benefit analysis of the new Ragged Mountain Dam and pipeline should factor in complete dredging as an immediate alternative.

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Rather than edit the document throughout the course of the meeting, Chair Sally Thomas asked the task force members that they phrase their changes in the form of a motion that could be voted by the group as a whole. Dede Smith, representing the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, immediately said that she could not support the report.

“We feel this does not answer the questions that were given to us by the City and County,” Smith said. She claimed that Charlottesville City Council the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors wanted the task force to provide cost comparisons between dredging and other components of the adopted community water supply plan.

“The City clearly asked that they receive cost comparisons, apples-to-apples is the term that they used, and I feel the fact that this report has limited the scope of any collection of data… is basically telling the City that we’re not going to give the information that they need,” Smith said.


Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett) asked Smith to point out the language she was referring to, and read from a statement that Mayor Dave Norris and then-Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna)

gave to the task force in October 2008 during the public hearing


“In our opinion, the South Fork Reservoir task force should focus its efforts on building a well-rounded case as to how the reservoir benefits our community, what measures would be most effective in maintaining those benefits, what is likely to happen to the reservoir if no such measures are undertaken, and what the next steps would be in order to move those measures forward.”

Rooker said the statement made it clear that the task force was to assume the adopted community water supply as a given. In response, Smith referred to City Council’s November 3, 2008 resolution in which Council requested a full review of the community water supply plan. The four boards met jointly in November 2008 to discuss Council’s additional requests for studies.

“When we had the four board meeting, it was specifically brought up as to how the cost analysis of those components would be done,” Rooker said. The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority will eventually issue an RFP to conduct various studies.  However, negotiations between the four boards on what those studies should entail are still ongoing as a Memorandum of Understanding detailing the outcome of the November joint meeting has yet to be finalized.

Smith said the directives from the four boards did not preclude the task force from recommending a comprehensive study to look at all of the options for the reservoir. Wren Olivier, representing the Sierra Club, said she would have resigned from the task force  at the start if she had known they would not address the water supply plan.

Supervisor Rooker asked Smith and Olivier if they thought it were fiscally responsible to spend between $50 million and $150 million to dredge the reservoir twice in addition to the components of the water supply plan. Smith countered that it was not fiscally responsible to address the change the community water supply plan, even if costs continue to escalate. Liz Palmer of the Albemarle County Service Authority said that decision is outside the charge of the task force, but that the work will be done by others.

The discussion continued for some time as Smith tried to persuade task force members, but Thomas eventually asked Smith to make a motion. Smith made a motion to recommend that the task force report include:

“A comprehensive professional study of dredging; to get a baseline evaluation of the reservoir condition with defining physical and geophysical information including bathymetric measurements, side scans and geotechnical data; to identify potential dewatering and disposal sites; to identify potential commercial uses of the sediment; work with the community and the Army Corps of Engineers to establish an integrated resource management plan for the reservoir; an analysis of new sandbar wetlands and potential for removal; assess the impact of dredging on the control of hydrilla; prevention of future sedimentation; cost estimates for a menu of dredging options; evaluating permitting conditions.”

Smith acknowledged that many of her requests are included in the full report, but that her motion reflected the need for a more comprehensive study. Olivier seconded the motion.

During the long discussion, Palmer said the cost of the study would take away from other items the ACSA and County needs, such as a County employee to work on erosion control measures.

Mark Fletcher, who represents the University of Virginia’s recreational interests in the reservoir, says the task force had one arm tied behind its back, but that he had to support the report as written.

“I don’t know that there’s not anything in here that doesn’t supply the information based on what we know and learned,” Fletcher said. He said it was up to the four boards to decide how they would spend their money. “But we’ve certainly given them some options of how they can spend dollars if they choose to do that.”

After 25 minutes of debate, Smith’s motion failed on a vote of 10-3. Councilor Holly Edwards voted for Smith’s motion, along with Wren OIivier. Before moving on to discuss other issues, Thomas thanked Smith for the time she put into her efforts.

The task force also made other minor amendments to the report, including where a reference to sediment forebays should to appear in the report. Dede Smith also objected to the way the public input’s role was represented in the report.

After the task force members discussed County Water Resource Manager

Greg Harper’s depiction of how the reservoir might silt in

, edited the description of the role public input played in the report, and other minor edits, Supervisor Rooker made a motion to adopt the report. But, Olivier asked that she be allowed to read a statement from the Sierra Club into the record:

“A stated purpose of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir Stewardship Task Force is to assess the benefits of the Reservoir and to recommend measures to preserve its benefits to the community. The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club notes that since this Reservoir was constructed over forty years ago, the primary benefit has been the provision of water to the Albemarle-Charlottesville urban community. This benefit will be lost without capacity-restoring dredging.

The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club recommends a study of the costs and feasibility of dredging the Rivanna Reservoir to restore its original water storage capacity be conducted. Possibly excessive estimates of the cost of dredging provided during development of the current water plan may have led to the mistaken rejection of dredging of the Rivanna Reservoir as the primary means of providing long term water supply.

The adopted water plan, which does not include capacity-restoring dredging, has significant environmental and economic costs. Many members of the public and our organization believe that the adopted water plan should be reconsidered. The Task Force should recommend such a study of capacity-restoring so that decision-makers involved in long term water planning can make informed choices that serve the public interest.

The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club rejects the notion that stewardhip of the Rivanna Reservoir should be based on the assumption that the reservoir will function primarily as a ‘water park’ or some other form of cultural asset.”

Supervisor Rooker said the report was clear that the reservoir’s primary purpose is for water storage, and that the Sierra Club’s statement incorrectly states that the reservoir will be abandoned. Dede Smith made a motion to attach the Sierra Club statement which was also defeated 10-3, with Smith, Olivier and Edwards voting against. Smith encouraged Olivier to submit the statement as part of a minority report. She later made the case for the Sierra Club’s statement to at least be included under the public comment section of the report.

Before the vote, Smith read a statement objecting to the task force’s report which formalized the arguments she had made previously in the meeting.  Ridge Schuyler then described why he thought dredging is not the best solution to meet the community’s water supply needs.

“The Ragged Mountain Reservoir solution is a 100% solution,” Schuyler said. “If we spent $30 million to dredge the reservoir, we would be able to reduce the dam height by 5 feet.”

After final comments from City Councilor

Holly Edwards

the task force adopted the report on a 11-2 vote with Smith and Olivier
voting against. Though she voted for Dede Smith’s alternate recommendations, Edwards said that she was okay with the report because it was time to bring the task force’s “journey to a close.”

Presentations of the report will be made to all four
boards, according to RWSA Chairman Mike Gaffney.

After the vote,
Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan issued a statement saying they
agreed with the statement made by the Sierra Club.

Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler



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