Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Council approves Ragged Mountain option: Water for another 50 years

Ragged Mountain plan

Ragged Mountain southwest, Rivanna northeast
Blue= I-64, yellow= 250 bypass, green= 29North
Red= western bypass VDOT right-of-way
B= Birdwood, W= Walmart, U= University Hall
2 possible routes for pipeline shown

Charlottesville, Va. City Hall Council Chamber. Monday June 5, 2006

I arrived late at 8:30pm. Council was finishing up with a $776,000 grant for the new public works transit center on Avon Street Extended to replace the old city yard between Jefferson School and Westhaven.

I missed the public hearing on the Affordable Housing Tax Grants. Fortunately it was the first of two readings. We’ll all have another chance to help Council craft a good policy at the next meeting Monday June 19.

This new program will take effect July 1 and started out as city charter amendment Section 50.7 approved by the Council on November 21, 2005. Because of the Dillon Rule, in Virginia the state assembly must approve such changes requested by localities.

A Senate committee stripped out of the amendment broad eminent domain language. The Housing Tax Grant program is a more humble version of the amendment introduced by Councilor Blake Caravati, who shortly thereafter announced he would not seek a third term. The Council approved the eminent domain provisions with Rob Schilling in the awkward position of having to oppose “affordable housing."

8:37pm Rivanna Water Authority director Tom Frederick gave a report on the latest Longterm Water Supply plan—expansion of the city’s first reservoir at Ragged Mountain.

Council unanimously authorized the agency to file a “joint permit application” to the Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Environmental Quality. Councilor Kendra Hamilton being absent, the plan was approved on a 4-0-1 vote; 4 yes, zero no, 1 abstention.

How and where to set aside new wetlands to replace flooded habitat is the current point of contention.

Frederick outlined the next three steps to a new reservoir.

(1) The agency will have to submit a mitigation plan to be approved by state and federal regulators.

(2) Council must sign a contract with Rivanna.

(3) Phasing of the project and financing plan must be determined.

Frederick acknowledged two water supply plans of controversy. Land was acquired by the agency in 1983 for Buck Mountain Reservoir near Free Union. But the endangered James River Spiny Mussel was found there. The agency could not get a permit to construct the dam.

In a February 2004 report to Council, RWSA’s new chairman of the board Mike Gaffney said this reservoir might not be built for a hundred years, but the agency is keeping the land as an “insurance policy” against future water demands. This land was seized by the agency using eminent domain and for 26 years not under the public use for which it was seized.

Tonight, Frederick reassured the public that no private land is needed for this new project. The city already owns Ragged Mountain and all the land that would be inundated.

The Rivanna Authority was created in 1972 to consolidate city-county municipal water services. Despite the consolidation, the city continues to own all the reservoirs, which were built before 1972.

Frederick also acknowledged the 4-foot bladder plan for the South Rivanna dam, which was approved by Council but not approved by regulators.

The director reported that at the last two public meetings, most recently April 18, only one person had stated opposition to the Ragged Mountain plan. That person endorsed the James River pipeline option. Frederick reported a rare community consensus on a complex endeavor.

The Ragged Mountain expansion and pipeline from South Rivanna will deliver the projected need of 9.9 million more gallons a day in 50 years. But 4.0 million of that will be lost to siltation of Rivanna between now and then, he reported.

Among those who support the Ragged Mountain option are the Nature Conservancy, Southern Environmental Law Center, Piedmont Environmental Council, Rivanna Conservation Society, Friends of Rivanna, and Chamber of Commerce.

Councilor Kevin Lynch asked whether land will have to be acquired to offset city land lost to reservoir expansion. As part of the mitigation/remediation plan, he hopes the 130-some acres of flooded city land will be balanced with land set aside in the city. He said we need to preserve urban streams as well as rural streams.

In response to a question as to who originally paid for the “park” land encircling the Ragged reservoir, Frederick said the land was acquired in the 1880s by the city before the federal government began subsidizing such local projects.

Since the reservoir is in the county, it is possible that no eminent domain was used either.

There were four more Council Agenda items to follow. The utility rate hike to fund the city’s new CityLink computer system was the final vote even though, as I understand it, there was a buzz with several speakers on this issue three hours earlier. At the end of the meeting, someone spoke about it again.

Here is what I had to say:

Good evening. My name is Blair Hawkins. [address]

When someone comes here to speak so late, either you’re speaking to the future or you’re speaking to history.

I first spoke on water issues in the year 2000 when I ran for City Council. My first full speech on water issues was August 2001 where I pointed out that siltation is a threat to capacity and quality of the water supply.

When the drought came in 2002, I requested of the water authority information on the drought of 1977. It wasn’t until 3 years later that the new director Tom Frederick responded to a new request. The response was that Rivanna does not keep its historical archives. The result of both requests was the same—no information.

But Mr. Frederick actually responded. His style of leadership and active listening has built trust and good will with the community.

I support the expansion of the Ragged Mountain reservoir and the pipeline from the Rivanna to fill it. Ragged Mountain went into operation in 1885. The land encircling the reservoir is not park land. The land was acquired for water storage and is simply now being used for recreation.

Finally, I’d like to thank Rob Schilling for his service on Charlottesville City Council. Although he wasn’t reelected and he is not perfect, he still has a lot to be proud of. One person really can make a difference.

Thank you.

At the end of the meeting, one other member of the public spoke seeking funding for Abundant Life Ministries.

But the meeting dragged on with Council Reports. At this point I’m a little tired. But I think it was Blake Caravati who wondered if we should name the 9th-10th street connector after someone.

Tonight’s meeting was the sixth anniversary of the public hearing to name that street after Sally Hemings, slave of Thomas Jefferson. The Chamber was packed that night. I gave 2 speeches on eminent domain and launched a campaign to stop the abuse right here in Charlottesville.

Letter to mayor Virginia Daugherty to investigate urban renewal

"PROPERTY STREET" for Sally Hemings and Laura Dowell
Naming of 9th/10th Street Connector in Charlottesville

Close-up of Ragged Mountain's third dam and pipeline from Rivanna

Close-up of Ragged Mountain's third dam and pipeline from Rivanna

South Rivanna dam the day after Hurricane Isabel, Sep 19 2003

South Rivanna dam the day after Hurricane Isabel, Sep 19 2003

“Council Beat: Rivanna water update, Matters by the public”, February 9, 2005, Charlottesville Independent Media (defunct)
Monday, Feb 7 2005, 7pm, City Hall Council Chambers



Tom Frederick, the agency's executive director since last summer, presented the briefing. The process has moved further forward since he last spoke to Council on November 1. Since then, the agency has focused on 4 options that seek to comply with federal regulations and respond to public input and concerns. In a series of outreach forums, each option was presented and discussed. The feedback from those meetings was highly positive both in the amount of information shared and opportunity for public input.

The goal of the process, as defined by the federal regulators, is to identify the alternative that is least environmentally damaging, practical, and allows us to take into account our overall cost purposes and feasibility. From the perspective of logistics, all 4 alternatives pass the test, are able to provide the new water to either the Rivanna or Observatory Hill treatment facility. For technical feasibility, a similar conclusion. In technical memoranda, consultants go into a fair amount of detail on the Rivanna website. We're not at preliminary or final design stage, but currently at the concept level of detail.

"Each of the 4 concepts is technically feasible. They can be implemented. And they can be implemented in a way that will meet the supply deficit for this community with the exception that 2 of the concepts do not supply the entire deficit. Dredging supplies 5.5 MGD (million gallons per day), and the 4 foot crest would supply 3.3 MGD." If these 2 alternatives were selected in combination, you'd still need a third option to add up to the 9.9 MGD deficit projected in the 50-year planning period.

Environmental impact is given the heaviest weight by the regulators for permitting. At this point, a survey shows that none of the 4 options would be stopped by a threatened or endangered species. The James River Spiney Mussel was found in a tributary of the Rivanna but is outside the foot print of the expansion. Cultural and historical impacts are considered part of environmental impact. There are such issues with each alternative but not threatening to the project.

Two other impacts considered by regulators are wetlands and streams. Dredging of South Rivanna has minimal impacts to wetlands and streams. James River Intake concept has minimal impact on wetlands. The pipeline would have 30 stream crossings, which are considered temporary impacts. And the regulators look at temporary impacts with less importance than permanent. The Ragged Mountain option has very low impact on wetlands but moderate impact on 9,300 linear feet of streams. The Rivanna crest gate has 30 acres of wetland impact, which is the greatest of the 4 concepts and 18,000 linear feet of stream impact, which is also the greatest of the 4 concepts.

The other big issue is cost. We should have updated figures in time for the March 3 joint work session, to include effects on water rates. At this point, the Ragged Mountain expansion would be the lowest cost and dredging the Rivanna the highest cost.

There's been considerable public comment to us at each of the meetings. In an unusual show of active listening, the director summarized some themes of public input for these 4 concepts:

- interest from the public on how the decision will be made locally and by the regulators
- watershed management
- growth and development
- instream flow
- maintaining existing resources
- water conservation

Mr. Frederick concluded his report and invited questions from Council.

Councilor Blake Caravati asked if the $127 million cost for dredging is to dredge the entire Rivanna reservoir or just a portion. Frederick said it was for all that is feasible to be dredged. Caravati then asked, how do you maintain existing assets if you don't dredge? Frederick replied that, if dredging is not selected as a water supply option, it should not be ruled out as a maintenance need.

Frederick recommended that a maintenance program be established for the South Fork Rivanna reservoir to ensure we collect data on where the sediment is, how much is being added over time, physical and chemical tests so we understand the water quality and if it's in anyway being impaired, physical surveys to look for qualitative affects such as on vegetation. There are creative ideas on how to use the silt but no sense of how that use could bring down the cost of dredging.

Mayor David Brown asked for an idea of startup cost for dredging, with costs declining as it becomes more routine. Frederick said he will make inquiries but didn't know the figures.

Councilor Kendra Hamilton asked how quickly does the reservoir siltate and how often would we have to dredge. Frederick said there are ways to mitigate erosion from agriculture and development, but some amount of siltation may be beneficial.

Councilor Kevin Lynch said that dredging would have to be a maintenance activity. He said he was less than convinced with the figures because the numbers have been changing, would like a second opinion, and the community has suggested that dredging could be much less costly than presented. He feels we're being steered toward the James River option because it's the cheapest, which may not be the most sustainable option. And its cost has dropped from $100 million a few months ago to the current estimate of $50 million.

Frederick said the costs presented are for raw water and do not include the cost of treatment or delivery to the treatment plants or maintenance. The figures presented in July inluded all those costs. This is not "apples to apples" comparison with what you saw in July.

Lynch said he has noticed that the cost for the South Rivanna expansion has gone up just as dramatically. In August 2002 Council sent Rivanna a letter saying it wanted to go with the Rivanna expansion option, "the most bang for our water rate buck." At the time we thought the 4-foot crest would bring 7 MGD. We now know it's 3.3 MGD. The price in 2001 was $2.2 million and now we're looking at $25 million. We may have to spend $6 million to replace the Earlysville Road bridge over the reservoir. A 3-foot bladder may be a better idea. The $18 million for environmental remediation costs seems "ridiculous." He said he was frustrated that an option funded 2 years ago is still an option, and not a project that has already been decided upon. The James River option is a 50-year solution. The bladder option is a 10-15 year solution.

Councilor Rob Schilling asked how far into the future does the 3.3 MGD of the 4-foot crest get us? Frederick replied 15-20 years, one third of the 50 years. The instream flow might give us less available water than before. Frederick said that the process requires the permit to be applied for and then the regulators would say if flow satisfies the permit. The regulators could deny the permit if the flow is too small or too great. The Nature Conservancy, with their own money, is collaborating with Rivanna to study the watershed and hopes to determine what stream flow is appropriate.


Related Information:

RWSA executive director Tom Frederick responded today to an email I sent yesterday for information on the 1977 drought. This inquiry was first made right after mandatory conservation was enacted in 2002. It has taken two and a half years, exposure in the press, a new chairman and a new director for RWSA to respond to this request.

"In general, Rivanna is not required to store documents dating back to 1977, and many of them that old are no longer being stored by the agency. However, I will have someone look to see if we still have a file on the 1977 drought and get back to you. Thanks for your inquiry." -- RWSA, Feb 8 2005

The inquiry:

Subject: drought management plan

Dear Tom,

It was nice to meet you last night at the city council meeting.

Please tell me the official process for requesting archival data from your agency (the process that gets a response). I'm interested in information on the 1977 drought, one of the top 3 droughts nationally and locally in the past hundred years. This drought prompted mandatory water conservation in Charlottesville/Albemarle. A yahoo search of the internet returns 117,000 articles mentioning 1977 drought. A yahoo search of the Rivanna website returns no articles referencing this well-documented drought.

Blair Hawkins

All about "The Last Drought," Sep 3 2002

"Drought Perspective," Sep 18 2002 (comparison of droughts 2002, 1977, 1930)

South Fork History

1962 South Fork Rivanna Reservoir land purchased and still owned by the City.
1966 SFRR filled and water production begins in August.
1968 First Albemarle zoning allows high density development.
1969 Four fish kills at night possibly due to low oxygen. Hurricane Camille in August.
1970 SFRR closed for two weeks after fish kill attributed to Endrin discharge at Crown Orchards.
1972 Fish kill at Lickinghole Creek attributed to ammonia spill at Morton Frozen Foods. RWSA formed. Clean Water Act. Hurricane Agnes in June.
1973 RWSA forms advisory committee on reservoir pollution.
1974 City asks county to downzone near SFRR. UVa says SFRR is "sick."
1975 EPA says accelerated pollution is occurring.
1976 Albemarle begins downzoning. Nature Conservancy, City, County, and Virginia Commission on Outdoor Recreation purchase 80 acres as Ivy Creek Natural Area.
1977 Clean Water Act tightens restriction of discharge of toxins. Worst drought on record. First mandatory water conservation for 35 days.
1979 Watershed Manager official created. Hurricane David in September.
1980 Downzoning appealed to Virginia Supreme Court, Albemarle prevails.
1981 81.5 acres added to Ivy Creek Natural Area.
1983 Land purchased for possible future Buck Mountain Creek Reservoir.
1988 Hydro power plant installed. Virginia bans phosphates in detergents.
1995/ Major flooding in region.
1996 Sugar Hollow Reservoir placed on dam failure alert after heavy rains. Blizzard of '96 in January, Hurricane Fran September.
2002 Second mandatory water restrictions begin August 23. Letters of Charlottesville will compare the two droughts' daily demand versus water supply when authorities release the data."

"Thomas L. Frederick Jr., 47, will replace interim RWSA executive director Lonnie Wood, who was appointed after the previous permanent director Larry Tropea left in June, who replaced interim executive director Cole Hendrix, who replaced permanent director Author Petrini early in 2001. Wood will return to his post as director of finance for both authorities." ( "More local leaders from faraway lands", May 2004)

"A consultant for Arcadis G&M in Greensboro, N.C., Frederick manages various professional teams in engineering and utility management services. Before that, he served as director of water resources for three years in Asheville, N.C., where he managed a department of 106 employees providing water to more than 110,000 people." ( "Rivanna appoints executive director," May 14 2004, The Daily Progress)


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