The “Dam” Water Discussion Continues

By. Neil Williamson, President

While this community’s “discussion” about the Community Water Supply Plan (CWSP)  has gone on (and on and on)  for well over ten years, Benjamin Franklin actually identified the core issue of the debate in 1746 in Poor Richard’s Almanac:

benfranklinWhen the well is dry, we know the worth of water.



In short, our community, in times of dire drought, needs greater storage capacity than we have. 

In addition to planning for water supply during drought, the community’s current Ragged Mountain Dam is, according to the Commonwealth of Virginia lethally unsafe, and there is a:

“true probable loss of life that will occur if the dam fails due to inaction in addressing the dam safety concerns”

Estimates to repair the dam exceed $6 million dollars without adding any new water supply. 

So we have not one but two significant (and potentially expensive) problems – a lack of water supply in times of drought AND an unsafe dam condition (first identified in 1979)

The solution, build a new Ragged Mountain Dam, 30 feet higher that the existing dam and inundate the existing dam.  This solution was first identified in 2006 and further refined with the decision to move to an earthen dam (rather than rolled compacted concrete) and to a height the Charlottesville City Council approved (3-2) of 30 feet.

Still today some in the community are pressing to “Dredge first, Dam later”.  This is shortsighted and fails to recognize our generational requirement to provide for those who will follow.

The new Ragged Mountain Dam creates nearly eight times more water storage than dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir back to its 1966 capacity (1,100 million gallons vs. 151 million gallons).  The drinking water storage capacity created by restorative dredging would have lasted 15 days during the drought of 2002.

In addition to being more effective, the new dam is more cost effective than such restorative dredging ($23 million vs. $30 million).

The year the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir was built (1966) US Senator Edmund Muskie, then  an up and coming EdmundMuskiestar in the Democratic Party gave a speech about the importance of water supply:

High quality water is more than the dream of the conservationists, more than a political slogan; high quality water, in the right quantity at the right place at the right time, is essential to health, recreation, and economic growth. – [emphasis added-nw]

Today, the Free Enterprise Forum and The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce reaffirmed our steadfast support for the permitted Community Water Supply Plan.  In the media release we stated:

The simple question, since 2002, has been what is the least environmentally damaging, most practicable alternative to provide this community needed water in time of extreme drought.  A diverse group of environmental and business concerns came together on the Community Water Supply Plan in 2006.  Since then, while a few individuals raised questions and concerns, the Free Enterprise Forum believes these concerns have been addressed. 

The approved community water supply plan is the only option that will provide us both the water we need and the state mandated river flows.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website


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