Water may be low, but blame’s high
Flowing toward the future
Assuming the maxim "Laugh now, cry later" holds true, city and county residents are in for some serious weeping. Years of wear and tear to the area’s water infrastructure, coupled with reluctance to spend money on maintenance, mean that some serious and expensive fixes to reservoirs, pipelines and water plants are on the horizon.
During a presentation to the Charlottesville/Albemarle League of Women Voters, Tom Frederick, executive director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) outlined some of the work that needs to be done on the area’s water and sewer systems.
"We here in Charlottesville have been guilty of failing to maintain our infrastructure," said Frederick at the meeting.
RWSA is the agency that runs the Charlottesville-area reservoirs, water plants, and sewage treatment facilities. It collects and treats "raw" water, then sells it wholesale to the city and county, which in turn distribute it to homes. RWSA needs a set of new pipelines that Frederick says would give the system "significantly more flexibility."
Its top priority, though, is rehabilitating and expanding the capacity of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir with a new Ragged Mountain Dam. The original dam was built in 1918, the year, as Frederick pointed out, that the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series. Because of its narrow spillway, the dam itself is in danger of overflowing if the area gets more than 15" of rain in a 24- to 30-hour period. If that happens, said Frederick, water could cause the surrounding earth to erode and the dam could fail, flooding the surrounding area. The only time on record that the area has gotten more than 15" of rain in that period was during Hurricane Camille in 1969, which dumped more than 25" in a five-hour period.
"We’ve got to fix this particular issue," he said. "A lot has changed in 100 years in terms of how we build infrastructure."
The price tag for the fix? A little over $37 million. A list of major water system rehabilitation and improvements call for five other projects, ranging in price from $9.2 million for the Route 29 pipeline and pump station to $55.9 million for a new South Fork-to-Ragged Mountain pipeline. The estimated total of needed upgrades is a little over $190 million, and that’s not the final number: Nine other projects are still waiting on estimates.
Those costs will likely be passed on to users in the forms of water fees, as the federal government has been scaling back funding for infrastructure over the last 25 years. The city and county are still in negotiations to determine what percentage each will pay to upgrade the water and sewer infrastructure, Frederick says.
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