Sunday, September 19, 2010

Public Hearing on 125-year-old Water Plan

Charlottesville, Va.—City Council will hear from the public Monday evening on the latest phase of a civic water plan set in motion in the late 1800s when all the land for the latest expansion of Ragged Mountain was purchased. Two reservoirs have already been built here in 1885 and 1908.

The city has allowed hiking trails and other public uses until the community decided to further enlarge this water storage. In June 2006 and again June 2008, City Council approved the water plan resulting from an unprecedented series of community forums held by Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority beginning in 2005. The County has also repeatedly approved the plan.

The purpose of the latest public hearing is to delay the plan. Vocal opposition has arisen from previous supporters of the plan and former water officials who want to dredge the South Rivanna Reservoir instead. This reservoir went into operation 1966 and flooded the African-American community of Hydraulic Mills.

Typically Council counts the number of speakers for and against a project. If Council agrees with the majority of speakers, Council will act accordingly. If Council disagrees with the majority of speakers, Council will hold hearings until the latest majority agrees with Council. Then Council will say they’re acting on the will of the people.

But the current community water supply plan is the will of the people. The community could have chosen to dredge. But instead they decided to build a new dam. All the permits have been granted from state and federal agencies. The only issues to be ironed out are funding and the size of the new dam.

Previously, following the community’s record drought of 1977 and first mandatory conservation, the Rivanna agency purchased land in 1983 for Buck Mountain Reservoir near Free Union before permits had been obtained. The reservoir was never built but Rivanna refuses to give the land back to its legal, rightful owners. This abuse of eminent domain is one reason people don’t trust the Rivanna agency, whose creation was initially negotiated in secret meetings in 1972.

To further show that Council is now blocking the project, they have commissioned more studies and are now formulating guidelines for Request For Proposals on dredging even though proposals have already been submitted and rejected. We already have a wide array of cost estimates for dredging.

The most recent study of the 1908 dam shows the old dam can safely support as much as 51 feet of additional height. Previous studies have indicated fractured bedrock under the existing dam and an earthen dam might be built more cheaply. The integrity of the 1908 dam was called into question as soon as it was built and an earthen face was added for strength. State officials have said the old dam does not meet new the new safety rules.

Under new leadership since 2004, the agency has built a great deal of trust despite the complex subject. Meanwhile, the dredging supporters, some who didn’t dredge when they were in charge, have not been able to gain traction. The dredgers have used personal attacks, rhetorical gimmicks and omissions.

However, the administration has been professional and shown restraint while doing their job—building a new dam as the community has instructed them to do.

One thing the new dam has in its favor is accountability and transparency. You can see it. In the future when ask if that dam was ever built, you can point and say: Yep, there it is. Did they ever build the Buck Mountain Reservoir. Nope, nothing to show for it.

What about dredging? There is no accountability. The project is invisible and under water. How will we know if the right volume of sediment is removed? We'll have to commission yet another study and be forced to trust yet another group of people.

The benefit of building the new dam is we can see it. If we make this century-old plan a reality, we will truly have something to show for all those forums and for all those millions of dollars spent.

Related stories and background

'Crying Drought' Fatigue, Mar. 9, 2009

"Rivanna Four Party Agreement 1972 to 2012", Feb. 15, 2009

"Ex-Councilors oppose their own water plan", Jun. 5, 2008

"Council approves water plan again", Jun. 2, 2008

“Dredging alternative at Citizens forum” May 5, 2008

"The emperor has no water" Hoax, Mar. 16, 2008

“2007: Year of the Non-Drought” Jan. 3, 2008

“50-year Water Plan for 76% more population: Ragged at same phase as Buck Mountain”, Sep. 18, 2007

“Rivanna uncomfortable using Buck Mountain land for Ragged Mountain plan” Nov. 2, 2006

“Council approves Ragged Mountain option: Water for another 50 years” Jun. 6, 2006. Includes Tom Frederick’s report to Council Feb. 7, 2005

Ragged Mountain southwest, Rivanna northeast, Green=29North, Yellow=250Bypass, Blue=I64, Red=Western Bypass, U=University Hall

RWSA-owned land acquired 1983 for possible futureBuck Mountain Reservoir near Free Union