has been reporting on the community water supply plan since 2005. Three years ago the discussion focused on whether a pipeline should be built to the James River versus using reservoirs within our own watershed. Charlottesville Tomorrow did not take a position on which option was preferable, but rather presented a set of shared facts by which the public could come to their own conclusion about which alternative made the most sense.
At the time, it was a very difficult exercise to compare those options and present the cost data simply and accurately. When we sent out an action alert to our subscribers in September 2005, 100% of them voiced their preference for the local watershed solution, building a new dam at Ragged Mountain and connecting that reservoir via new pipeline to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Yet, with the recent discussion in the community, I think many of those same subscribers today might be confused about where we are with the community water supply plan.
City Council is also asking questions.
They are holding a public hearing Monday, May 19, 2008 and intend to vote again on June 2, 2008 on an issue that they unanimously approved in 2006.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors also voted unanimously for the plan in 2006, however they recently reiterated their support for the plan in a meeting on May 14, 2008.
Our public water and sewer system is a very complex and expensive operation. It is relatively easy to attack any one component, or assumption, or decision maker, or consultant and suggest that a smarter and more cost-effective solution is available. In 2005, a coalition of environmental groups did just that, however the new ideas they brought to the table led to a rare consensus among elected officials, business leaders, and environmentalists who secured the approval of a fifty-year plan for our water supply.
In late 2007,
Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan
stepped forward and raised questions about the approved plan. Their research has also brought to the community’s attention alternative ideas for dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and phasing (or eliminating) the construction of a new Ragged Mountain Dam. Importantly, that information has not changed the opinion of the leadership of the
Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority
The Nature Conservancy
Rivanna Conservation Society
Piedmont Environmental Council
, the business leaders at the
Chamber of Commerce
, nor the
Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
. They all believe that the fifty-year community water supply plan endorsed in 2006 is still the most cost-effective and least environmentally damaging option.
The Charlottesville City Council has been responsive to their constituents’ concerns and held a recent work session in advance of their public hearing. Dredging has been the recommendation that has captured the public’s attention. The community debate has ensured dredging of sediment collecting in the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir will be an important component of any plan for maintaining our water supply. There has been significant debate about the feasibility and cost of dredging. That spirited discussion about the feasibility and cost of dredging should lead us to a more cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars.
It will not lead us to a complete solution for our future water supply.
Based upon our review of the publicly available documents and attendance at virtually every water related public meeting since 2005, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s research indicates that dredging alone does not provide enough water for times of drought and for a growing population over the next fifty years.
So in the big picture of planning for our long-term water infrastructure, it really does not matter how much dredging costs or how it is done, we still need more capacity than what can be found in the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.
If one starts challenging the assumptions of the community water supply plan, it is easy to make many alternative approaches seem more attractive. In the extensive public process that led to the plan’s approval, the community in effect accepted the following assumptions:
Eliminating or reconsidering any one of those assumptions opens up all sorts of options. It also raises many questions in the minds of the public. For example, if our population grows less quickly, we do not need to have as much water storage capacity. If we plan for thirty years instead of fifty years, we might avoid building a new dam and see what our needs look like down the road.
So, here we are at another opportunity where the public can express its opinion to our elected officials.
Charlottesville Tomorrow encourages you to take this opportunity, whether you are a resident of the City or the County, whether you have a well or public water.
You may see a specific assumption above you think should be questioned. You may also say you are not sure, but you want certain things carefully considered. Whatever your opinion, I encourage you to speak up.
For those who would like to do some additional homework on this project before writing a letter or attending the public hearing, the following resources may be of interest:
Each of these organizations have online resources related to the plan: