Dredge first for financial and environmental health
by Joanna Salidis

This spring, my husband and I bought a 1000 gallon rain water tank. Although we do believe in conservation, our motivation was financial. We spent too much money watering our garden and young trees last summer.  Charlottesville’s water/sewer rates are high, and in the future we can expect them to go much higher if City Council does not change its direction on the water plan.

Briefly, the City and County are moving forward on an approximately 140 million dollar plan that would raise the reservoir at Ragged Mountain Natural Area by at least 30 feet. The ultimate plan is to fill this reservoir with water from the Rivanna River, pumped nine miles uphill. The legitimacy of this plan depends on two crucial questions: How much water do we need in the next fifty years including increases due to development, and What are our options for increasing our water capacity?

The demand studies that the current plan are based on are inaccurate. They used poor statistical methods, and did not include the impact of relatively new federal legislation that mandated greater energy and water efficiency. The result of these errors is that the projection assumes we should be using 26% more water today than we are using, just 6 years in. This error is despite an increase in population. Obviously, all new development, which drives the increased water needs, will incorporate these same efficiency measures, if not more.  The result is that we have a poor idea of our needs over the next 50 years. However, the RWSA is currently soliciting requests for proposals to conduct a new water demand analysis, as required by law for this year. Doesn’t it make sense to get an accurate picture of our needs before we commit our financial and natural resources on an unalterable path?

Do we have other options to meet our water needs besides raising the dam at Ragged Mountain and pumping water for 9 miles?  Yes, we can restore capacity at another City owned reservoir, the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.  This option for expanding our water supply was only taken off the table due to an extremely overpriced estimate of the costs. The original price tag of 200 million dollars was subsequently reduced to 30 million dollars, bringing dredging within a feasible range.

Currently, City Councilors are negotiating with the County Board of Supervisors regarding dredging. It should be in the cost-share agreement, and it should be prioritized as the first step to take to increase our water capacity.  Furthermore, we should stop all progress on the earthen dam at Ragged Mountain until and unless facts dictate that we need additional capacity.

The benefits of dredging first, and waiting on the dam are numerous:

  1. City residents maintain the asset of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, instead of losing it to siltation.  We also maintain the asset of Ragged Mountain Natural Area, instead of losing it to County-owned infrastructure.
  2. We can repair and enlarge the base of the current dam at Ragged Mountain, to ensure safety, and the ability to raise the dam in the future dependent on need. This will cost considerably less than building a new dam.
  3. Ratepayers save mitigation costs, and the cost of protecting the enlarged reservoir at Ragged Mountain from toxic spills from I64.
  4. Ratepayers save approximately 63 million dollars (this does not include operating costs), the cost of the pipeline from the Rivanna River to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.
  5. We maintain drinking water from the Sugar Hollow reservoir, which has higher quality water.
  6. We avoid clear cutting and flooding 200 acres of mature forest at Ragged Mountain, and putting in 5 miles of road there. The mitigation for this loss of City-owned parkland is saplings planted far from the City.

Please consider signing the following petition to dredge first for our water supply:


or emailing City Council directly at council@charlottesville.org.

For further information on these issues, as there is much more, consider cvillewater.info.

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  1. Ms. Salidis makes good and compelling arguments. In addition to her comments I would like to add many points, but will limit my comment to dredging for now.
    RWSA has created a false argument for not dredging for capacity.

    Dredging using a “all at one time approach” today is plainly inappropriate. All that sediment removed at once creates the problem of dewatering it and disposing of it all at once. That problem leads to ecological damage on a large scale due to the dewatering site which will cost 10s of millions of dollars to overcome.

    And dredging “all at one time” today is not needed. There is no immediate need for capacity. Dredging should commence today but on the scale matched to the sediment accumulation plus “a small bite”. The “small bite is to restore the capacity to the reservoir by removing the current accumulation thus providing additional capacity as the community demand increases over the next 20 years.

    “Small Bites” will yield a pristine reservoir in 20 years with annual expenses less than the cost of interest on the debt required to build the Mega Dam at Ragged Mountain. The “all at one time approach” cost much more and when we need the capacity then new sediment will have destroyed the work.

    I have published the “Small Bites” concept in The Hook 7/22/2010 edition pages 34 & 35. Until the RWSA deception is addressed, it will stand and dredging will not be given a fair evaluation.

  2. “The result of these errors is that the projection assumes we should be using 26% more water today than we are using, just 6 years in. This error is despite an increase in population. Obviously, all new development, which drives the increased water needs, will incorporate these same efficiency measures, if not more. The result is that we have a poor idea of our needs over the next 50 years. However, the RWSA is currently soliciting requests for proposals to conduct a new water demand analysis, as required by law for this year. Doesn’t it make sense to get an accurate picture of our needs before we commit our financial and natural resources on an unalterable path?”

    Because everyone is having trouble with whatever “projection stat de-jours” are getting lobbed about, there is a lot of chosen disbelief prevelant. You’re smarter than the average citizen and probably would say it’s living in denial. You recite 26% more should be being used than being used just 6 years in. You’ve bet on the favorite horse in the race and credit efficiency measures for water usage reduction. Yet in the same breath, you attribute this error to despite an increase in population. Okay, I’ll bite. Are you refering to Albemarle County, the University or both? Where I’ve been all over the ‘ville, I sure don’t see an increase in the city’s residental population. You sure don’t see it around with escalating empty rental properties and houses for sale. Wait. Granted, we are nearing the season exodus of emigrating graduates. Oh snap! Are you sure you’re not confusing that with the uptick in the city’s registered voter rolls? With UVa gearing up for its next academic year, President Sullivan has relegated to increase student enrollment. Hmmm, are any of these that increase which apply to what you imply being this error despite?

    At best the stats floating all over are just this….. PROJECTED. How’s this for a projection. I sense your the kind of person who’d like to not unnecessarily be overburden by logistics of supply and demand. The only leg you’re left standing on with me is an interest with this RSWA’s solicited new water demand analysis. Even then, I may stay skeptical. I detest half-full half-empty glass arguments.

    Is THE RESULT really a poor idea of our needs over the next 50 years or just this unceasing parade of errored projections? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I was set on beating the sidewalks once, to have dredging placed as a referendum on the November 2011 ballot. What made me turncoat and change mind? The person I offered to do this for did not take me serious. Call me an indian giver, but I renounced that pledge and now lean toward proponents for building. I stood up to my neighborhood association for sending their letter of recommendation behind council’s action. That was BEFORE Brown, Huja and Szakos did their 180° on the water plan. My biggest hang up last September was simply this: council had no intention of action. Now we have a council faction backing dam building and dredging proponents bemoaning this with Reagan Nostalgia Like Remorse.

    The county is on a timetable Ms Salidas. It is going to take more than just an online petition with over 300 internet signatures to make a difference for your point of view. May Day is less than a month away. If you and whovever like minded want to take back this issue, I expect bodies laying in front of and blocking the path of bulldozers. If you have any chance of turning this back around in your cause’s favor, go for getting a public referendum that’s anti-dam on ballot in both city and county. Check with the Registrars in both Albemarle and Charlottesville to see if you can still swing this for November 2011. By the way, don’t forget to check with the Commonwealth Deparment of Enviromental Quality and with both county and city charters. This will be no easy feat. Maybe the folks behind those 300 signatures will attach theirs to another petition for such a referendum also.

    By the way, here’s another projection. No, I’m not offering to beat sidewalks once more for sympathizers of citizens for a sustainable water supply. However, you might just earn a newfound respect from me, if you make the hard choice to get it placed up as a proper election referendum. Anything else from this point on would be just another error.

  3. Fact vs Opinion

    The facts haven’t changed since 2002 and 2006. But the opinions are all over the place, masquerading as fact.

    Is it a fact or opinion?

    (1) Projection…all predictions are opinions because they have not yet occurred and can’t be facts.
    (2) Need…again an opinion statement. The City-County opinion based on democratic representation is we do need the water. Who’s against democracy? Quite a few people as it turns out.
    (3) Is dredging for maintenenance or capacity? If it’s new capacity, county would have to pay for it if they request it. If City requests the new dredging capacity, City pays for it. If it’s maintence supply, County pays 45% and City 55%. It’s clear to me (my opinion) that the water plan opponents have not read the 1972 Four-Party Agreement which governs RWSA. Why would they take the chance?

    Thanks, Guys. My blog has a lot of water info based on research. Just click on my name unless you’ve already locked in your opinion. Then why bother discussing or negotiating.

  4. Blair –
    1) I agree the water demand estimate is by necessity an opinion in the sense that it is a projection. But, there are two important issues. First, is it the best estimate we can get? Clearly not, as it is wrong already, and did not account for important information (1992 energy legislation). More importantly, given that absolutely YES there IS always reason to doubt how accurate a 50 year estimate is, how do we acknowledge and proceed with that uncertainty? Do we spend the maximum amount of money and do the most environmental damage based on this uncertainty? Or, do we choose a flexible and conservative option? In this case, we have the choice – we can ensure adequate water supply in the near term (about 40 years) through dredging South Fork. We can safely repair the dam already at Ragged Mountain, and widen the base, and raise it higher IF AND WHEN we need to. Repairing the old dam versus building a new mega dam saves us the cost of the 64 embankment, the mitigation, and the 60-million-plus-operating-costs-to-pump-9-miles-uphill crazy pipeline. With this approach, we will definitely have enough water, and we MAY never need to do that other stuff. We can raise the dam to whatever level is necessary in the future, because the closer you get to the future, the more accurate those “projections” are.
    2) Do the choices of elected officials always accurately represent the will of the electorate? Should citizens in a democracy accept without question the actions of the government? Not in my world. For one thing, there are a lot of players in this drama that are not elected officials – there are large paid staffs pushing the current water plan. Who is there to get facts out about the alternatives? Volunteers. How does the public feel anyway? That is the point of the petition, people (http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-city-council-dredge-first-for-water-supply-2), so sign it. Finally, I could not agree more with the implied point that if I don’t like the current choices of the City Councilors, I should vote for others in the upcoming election. I certainly will vote for and promote people who clearly value the financial and environmental interests of city residents, and I hope others will join me. Mr. Huja needs to go.
    3) Blair, I think your faith in local government far surpasses my own. What gets called maintenance and what gets called new capacity is entirely a political fight. Tom Frederick tried/is trying to make the claim that the new 60-million-plus-operating-costs-to-pump-9-miles-uphill crazy pipeline should be considered maintenance because it would replace in function the old pipeline from Sugar Hollow!! His argument being that if the Sugar Hollow pipeline WERE fixed (which it turns out to be in fine shape) that would be maintenance. Well, yes, Tom, but then we wouldn’t have to build the 60-million-plus-operating-costs-to-pump-9-miles-uphill crazy pipeline! And we would be maintaining our infrastructure, the old pipeline and the reservoir at Sugar Hollow, and we would be getting cleaner water etc. etc. I don’t think the issue with dredging is whether it should be considered new capacity or maintenance – it is whether it should be considered as relevant to the water plan at all vs. purely recreational. I’m saying dredging is essential to a realistic, reasonable water plan, the County should pay SOMETHING for it, and it should should happen FIRST. Other steps in the water plan should be dependent upon the capacity dredging affords.

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