Ragged Mountain Dam Expert Panel Report Released

By. Neil Williamson

The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority (RWSA) posted the report of the Ragged Mountain Dam Expert Panel to its website today.  The expert panel report is very well organized and discusses:

  • The Dam Designer’s role
  • Contractor procurement Process and Contract Organization
  • Site Assessment during Excavation and Treatment
  • Technical Issues
  • Logistical Issues
  • Overall Construction Schedule
  • Risk Management and Potential for Cost Reductions

In the media release, RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick said, “We have now had this project reviewed by three of the most knowledgeable experts on dam design in the entire world.  They have given us significant feedback, they have reassured us that our decision last August to stop design work was justified and wise, and they have given us direction to take this project forward in a way that optimizes safety, performance, and cost.”

The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the RWSA for taking immediate action last August.  In addition, we favor the order of Mr. Frederick’s priorities “safety, performance, and cost.” 

By depoliticizing the discussion with three outside expert, the RWSA was able to focus on the facts of the engineering challenges of a new dam at Ragged Mountain.  

For those who express concern at the changing design (and resulting cost figures), a full review of the expert report indicates many critical variables remain unsure.  The report states:

The RCC (Roller Compacted Concrete) design is in the very early stages of development and subject to change as part of the natural evolution of the engineering process.   

The report provides seven recommendations for changes to procurement processes and contractor responsibility that may result in significant cost savings:

  • Revise the current conceptual design for foundation excavation, surface preparation and seepage cutoff construction
  • Investigate potential advantages in lowering the reservoir during construction.
  • Conduct further site investigation, but focused heavily on delineating rockhead elevations suitable for foundations
  • Create contract documents which allocate equably the risk of excavation and foundation treatment
  • Fundamentally reassess the location, shape, and composition of the dam, with due consideration for the sourcing RCC components
  • Consider making the I-64 highway embankment issue a separate parallel track project in terms of design and construction
  • The overriding goal of the contractor procurement should be to best match the contractor capabilities to the major work items and risk areas

The process of seating the expert panel, scheduling the panel meetings, and delivery of the report ate up almost a year. 

The fact that true deliverables resulted out of this small study group is encouraging.  The fact the expert panel is contracted to meet again shows promise that we may well be headed toward building the approved community water supply.  If this is the end result, the nine month delay was well worth it.


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