Water may be low, but blame’s high

Water may be low, but blame’s high

Everybody has somebody to blame for our local water problems. That was the lesson from the September 13 public meeting of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA), held to review the $142 million community water supply plan [PowerPoint presentation] to provide for the next 50 years. Among those blamed: developers for not paying their fair share; county supervisors for approving so much development (including rezonings last week to allow 4,300 new units); county residents who use wells for not paying a nickel; city councilors for not being invested enough to even show up to the meeting; neighbors for not heeding drought restrictions.

But much of the blame came down on Thomas Frederick, RWSA’s executive director. Why doesn’t his organization dredge the reservoirs? Why isn’t there better info on the RWSA website? Why isn’t the plan finalized by now? Why didn’t he tell UVA kids to conserve when they came back to school? Why can’t he assure us that when this plan is complete, there won’t be any more drought watches?

The antiquated dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoirs are out of compliance with state regulations. A new $37 million dam is expected to provide the fix.

Frederick hustled to assuage the anger, perhaps enflamed by this year’s ongoing drought, but the idea that a remedy is coming in the next few years—along with higher water bills—was hardly reassuring to most.

Ridge Schuyler of The Nature Conservancy, speaking as a private city citizen, at last came to Frederick’s rescue at the end of the meeting. “I think this community really ought to be commended for coming up with a plan that really does address the needs both of the river and of the people, and trying to strike that balance is a very difficult proposition.” He called the current plan “the promised land.”

The community water supply plan has three major components that combine for 89 percent of its cost. A 45′ expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir dam, costing $37 million, will add roughly 80 percent of the new water supply, supplemented by a $56 million pipeline to the reservoir from the South Fork of the Rivanna Reservoir. The Observatory Water Treatment Plant is also getting a $34 million upgrade.

One thing that came out during the meeting is that phasing Ragged Mountain dam construction, as some have suggested to keep current taxpayers from subsidizing future development, does not appear to be much of an option. If the pipeline between the South Fork Reservoir and the Ragged Mountain Reservoir isn’t first built, the dam, expected to cost $37.2 million, would be required to add at least 42′ of the planned 45′ in order to meet federal requirements concerning stream flows. Plus, Frederick pointed out that building the full dam at once will make it more structurally secure.

Regardless, something has to be done about the dam by 2011—the deadline by which the state says a fix must be in place. “Our dams are deficient in protecting public safety in a high flood condition,” said Frederick. “The probability is low, but the consequences could be catastrophic.”

Two major pieces of the puzzle are still missing. One is the question of how the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) and the City of Charlottesville will split the bill—the most recent arrangement, negotiated in 2003, has ACSA paying 73 percent of capital costs and the city paying the rest.

The other question is what the next bill will be. The RWSA is currently examining much of its underground infrastructure, but has yet to release what other replacements and expansions need to be made to interceptors.

For more information: See Charlottesville Tomorrow’s report on the RWSA’s September 13 meeting.

C-VILLE welcomes news tips from readers. Send them to news@c-ville.com.

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