City Council Puts Water Supply Plan in Question

On Monday night (11/3/08), Charlottesville City Council voted to direct the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) to conduct a number of studies prior to implementation of the community water supply plan Council had previously approved.  Charlottesville Tomorrow has the story (and podcast).

Earlier in the evening, City Council had been presented a number of petitions from neighborhood groups requesting a resolution.  One such letter, Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association, read:

At our annual fall picnic a gathering of about fifty members of the Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association voted unanimously to support the following resolution.

Resolution:

It is hereby resolved that the City Council of Charlottesville, in order to insure that City taxpayers and water-rate payers are not subject to unnecessary water-rate and tax rate increases, and to protect the integrity of the City owned Ragged Mountain Natural Area, will prohibit any excavation, de-forestation, or road construction activities related to the proposed Ragged Mountain Dam unless studies clearly demonstrate that the construction of such a new dam and pipeline is less expensive and less environmentally destructive than dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir as part of the Fifty Year Community Water Supply Plan.

In their meeting this week (11/5/08), The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors discussed the City proposal with RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick and Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA)Executive Director Gary Fern.  Charlottesville Tomorrow has the story (and podcast).   

Frederick represented the “ball park” costs for the studies as described as between $750,000 and over $1,000,000.  In terms of time he estimated a fast track approach with little or no public input would take 9 months to a year and if significant public input was requested it would be in excess of a year.

Earlier today (11/6), The ASCA Board of Directors met to discuss the City Council proposal.  Much of the discussion focused on the lack of reasoning in the City Council proposal to why the studies need to be done.  Chairman Don Wagner questioned the cost benefit of the proposals.  He believed the ASCA ratepayers will likely be asked to pick up more than half of the cost and he was not convinced the proposal presented a compelling case to expend such funds.  In the end, the ACSA Board chose not to issue a resolution in support of the plan but looked forward to the opportunity to speak to City Council in the proposed joint meeting.

Opponents to the approved plan, including Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply, have raised a number of concerns about the future demand analysis, the discounting of community conservation efforts, and the increasing cost of the plan as it moves forward.  In addition they call into question the qualifications of the lead engineering vendor Gannett/Flemming to conduct the cost analysis.

One member of the ACSA Board mentioned poor communication between City Council and the other members of the four party agreement.  This Board member framed the choices in front of the community as a choice of three pipelines:

  1. 13 miles to the Moormans River
  2. 9 miles to the South Fork Rivanna
  3. 23 miles to the James River

The Free Enterprise Forum has been a participant in the Community Water Supply discussions for many years but has never endorsed any specific solution.  Instead, we have focused on finding an actionable solution that solves the 50 year water supply demand. 

One area of significant concern is the safety of the Ragged Mountain Dam.  The RWSA was first notified of engineering concerns regarding the dam in 1979.  Ever since this initial notification, RWSA has received  extensions from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).  The current extension runs out in 2011.  Frederick expressed concern that if the proposed studies put the dam on hold, the RWSA will likely be in violation (unless an additional extension is issued).  Sanctions include fines and up to a possible court order that the reservoir be drained until the situation is resolved.  It is hard to imagine the water restriction ramifications of having the Ragged Mountain Reservoir drained but it is equally hard to imagine the level of death and destruction a dam failure would bring.

Many in the community believed this issue had been resolved after significant public comment and participation with the four parties (Albemarle County, ACSA, City of Charlottesville, RWSA) signing on to one solution and the Army Corps of Engineers approving the plan.  To hear testimony before City Council questioning the existence of an endangered species in the area once destined for Buck Mountain Reservoir is taking many steps backwards and is not helpful to the community discussion.

While we recognize the significan political pressure being placed on City Council, it is even more harmful to the discussion when one member of the four party agreement takes unilateral action on a proposal that did not even appear on the City Council agenda.  Such action only builds distrust among partners and promotes inevitable City/County tensions that seemed to be on the mend in recent years.

This community deserves better.

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