Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Major Breakthrough in the Water Supply Debate

Today the City of Charlottesville released a follow-up report from engineering firm Black & Veatch on the feasibility and cost of renovating and expanding the existing Ragged Mountain Dam -- a key component of a more ecologically- and economically-sensible water supply solution for our region. It's a very technical report, but the gist of it is that concerns raised by a recent peer review did not turn out to be "deal-breakers" and addressing those concerns will not add but $1 million or so to the dam renovation project. We can now say with authority that phasing in the new water supply system is a financially and technologically viable approach. This is a major breakthrough in the water supply debate. In response to public and media inquiries about the report issued today, I have prepared the following statement. It is issued in my name only, not on behalf of City Council, the City of Charlottesville, or the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority Board (on which I sit).


Personal Statement on Black & Veatch Report – 12/15/10

by Dave Norris

On September 20, 2010, Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously in favor of a water supply plan that called for the phased construction of a higher dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, with an initial increase of 13 feet. Through phasing in the expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, the City and County would avoid burdening today’s ratepayers with millions of dollars of unnecessary debt and avoid causing unnecessary ecological destruction at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. According to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), a 13-foot rise in the dam combined with dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir would guarantee enough water for our growing region for at least 40 years to come.

Council’s September 20 resolution left unanswered whether the higher Ragged Mountain dam should come in the form of a new earthen dam or a renovation/ expansion of the existing concrete dam. Since that vote, we have learned that it’s impractical, from a cost and engineering perspective, to construct a new earthen dam in phases. Today we learned with authority from Black & Veatch, one of the world’s leading engineering firms, that expanding the existing concrete dam remains not only a viable approach, but also quite a cost-effective one. Keep in mind that 20% of the world’s population that’s on public water relies on a water supply system either designed, constructed or supported by Black & Veatch. This firm has extensive experience and expertise in the field of dam design and construction.

In 2006, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council both voted unanimously in favor of a permit application to DEQ that explicitly allowed the option of phasing in construction of the Ragged Mountain Dam. That permit application was subsequently approved by DEQ. As stated on pages 58 and 59 of the permit support document,

Phasing is the ability of an alternative to be implemented in logical and cost-effective increments, rather than all at once, in order to improve efficiency, conserve resources, and minimize costs and mitigate the impact on customer rate increases….

[T]he early phases of the project must accomplish two goals:

1. Eliminate the dam safety issue at the existing Ragged Mountain dams; and

2. Provide adequate safe yield at a manageable cost for a reasonable initial period.

If the RMR [Ragged Mountain Reservoir] Alternative is implemented, the first element of the project could be to construct a replacement dam to an initial height that would significantly increase existing yield, but that would be short of the ultimate 45-foot increase. This would accomplish both stated objectives.

Construction of the dam's first phase would produce adequate yield to cover an interim period while avoiding the greater capital cost associated with future needs. The dam would be raised to its full height in the future when more users create additional demand and those additional ratepayers can share the cost….

In summary, RMR can be divided into two phased capital projects spanning the planning horizon and can be built when needed to match demands over time.

[emphasis added]

This is precisely the approach endorsed by all five City Councilors on September 20. It’s important to note that to this day, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has never disallowed this option.

Given that the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council have both already voted in favor of a permit application that includes the option of phasing in construction of a higher Ragged Mountain dam; given our mutual desire to provide long-term water security for our region in the most fiscally- and environmentally-responsible manner; and given what we now know about the feasibility, and the fiscal and environmental advantages, of renovating and expanding the existing Ragged Mountain dam, it seems that a positive and mutually-beneficial resolution of the water supply issue may finally be at hand.

I hope we can all agree to move forward in due haste to implement the approach set forth by Black & Veatch. We have an excellent opportunity now to address the dam safety issues at Ragged Mountain and start expanding our long-term water supply. The bidding environment is very favorable and there are state deadlines to meet. Let’s get to work.


Richard_L_Lloyd said...

I reside in the County. I am sick and tired of the back room deals and arrogrance on the part of the County Supervisors and the Albemarle County Service Authority. Dave Norris is trying to arrice at a sensible solution. Lower enviornmental damage, lower cost and much more water than needed even in the drought of record! Why wont they agree?

Anonymous said...

Dave, you have done outstanding work in seeking information about the best options for the water supply of the future for both Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Phasing and dredging is so obviously the best way to go. I hope the other councillors will vote for that kind of plan on Monday. Mary Huey 807 Village Road

rajni said...

nicely done