Let’s build the earthen dam at Ragged Mountain
by Vic Peña
Over the past few weeks, in conversations with my friends and neighbors in the County the subject of water availability and costs will eventually come up. This was especially true while many of us were in the process of the fall ritual of preparing our lawns, gardens and landscapes for the winter months, and for a resurgent Spring of flourishing flora. After the summer of 2010, its drought and threat of water rationing, many of us are justifiably concerned for our water availability in 2011. Will we have enough, and what will be the cost?
Invariably, our conversations about water focus on what the City of Charlottesville plans to do to solve the pressing problem of the Ragged Mountain Dam falling on disrepair and unable to meet current and projected demand.
Having suffered through yet another rather scary summer regarding our water supply, the issue of building an affordable, beneficial, and capable dam of supporting our County’s present and future growth continues to drag on. In my opinion, and supported by my own reading of the issue and research of it, an earthen dam is the most cost efficient and beneficial way to go. An earthen dam is also a quick start “shovel ready project.” It’s time to quit holding us, both the citizens of the City and County, hostage to a future of water availability uncertainty. Perhaps thoughts on this subject will help the City officials to “get off the dime.”
The term “being held hostage” has gained popularity of late. But, yes, it is a fitting description to what residents of Albemarle County, Charlottesville, and now UVa, are experiencing because of Mayor Dave Norris and the Charlottesville City Council’s indecision to building a whole new earthen dam downstream of the Lower Ragged Mountain Dam. Frustrated, with the outlook of another bleak waterless summer, is another way of describing our situation.
It’s time for a decision. The decision should be in favor of an earthen dam, and a by gosh big one. There are a number of reasons for an earthen dam. The most salient being that it can be started now. Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville have the resources and wherewithal to break ground immediately, these being engineering talent, raw materials, and heavy construction corporations more than anxious and willing to bid on the contracts to bring this dam to fruition. Another popular term comes to mind: “Shovel Ready Jobs”. We can put people to work on this right now. Additionally, the economic climate has never been more favorable to proceed with cost efficient contracts.
We do not need to wait for another study as Mayor Dave Norris proposes. We have credible data on hand from the Independent Technical Review Team (ITRT) dated November 23, 2010 and the support of one of the most prestigious universities in the United States, our own, UVa, to proceed forthwith to build the earthen dam.
Mayor Dave Norris asserts the prestige of the firm of Black and Veatch, upon which to base a decision. But the fact is that the ITRT dismissed many of the construction and engineering components in Black and Veatch’s design concept. The most damning is the collective issue of safety. The ITRT asserts with reasoned engineering conclusion, that building a “roller compacted concrete, RCC, dam” on the existing Ragged Mountain Dam, would require extensive remediation of that structure, without adding capacity to water retention, or assurance of safety.
The history of foot dragging to building a new dam has been going on since the political leadership of Albemarle County and Charlottesville adopted the Community Water Supply Plan in 2006. That plan was agreed upon as being the most cost-effective to meet our Community’s long term water needs, i.e., it provides for the most environmentally friendly approach to construction, and it is supported by virtually all environmental and commercial organizations of the area, from the Piedmont Environmental Council, the Nature Conservancy and the Chamber of Commerce, just to name a few.
While it would be easy to get “wonky” in writing thoughts such as these, I have tried to draw attention to the frustration that citizens (taxpayers and water bill payers), like me have with the indecision on the part of the Mayor and his Council to right now make a decision to go with an earthen dam.