By Brian Wheeler


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Albemarle and Charlottesville officials are hoping to come to terms soon on a

50-year water plan

that has been in the works for nearly eight years, since the drought of 2002 underscored the need for a long-term solution.

Originally approved

in 2006

at a then-projected

cost of $142 million

, the 50-year water plan has since been heavily scrutinized after questions were raised about inflated costs for a new dam and the merits of dredging an existing reservoir.

Review Collectbritain’s

Water Supply Decision Matrix

, an evaluation of many of the key criteria local leaders will be reviewing as they finalize a decision on the 50-year water supply plan.

With a

revised design for an earthen dam


Ragged Mountain Reservoir

in hand and county leaders supporting its construction, the City Council will hold a work session Thursday to discuss a group of water-supply studies completed over the summer.

The latest new information surfaced Tuesday, when a

consultant issued new projections

on the cost and viability of repairing and building on the existing dam at Ragged Mountain — yet another potential alternative in the overall water plan.

If the City Council seeks to amend the

2006 water plan

, any change would require a majority vote at a future

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

board meeting. Should city and county representatives on the RWSA board reach a stalemate, the community may be faced with the prospect of having an approved water plan that can’t be implemented.

The city and county have three votes each, with a seventh belonging to a jointly appointed chairman, currently Mike Gaffney, who is in his fourth two-year term in that position.

Ann H. Mallek

, chairwoman of Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors, said in a recent interview that there needs to be a joint meeting with the City Council to plan the next steps.

“The city needs to resolve where it is and come to that meeting with its position and concerns, otherwise we have no way to figure out what to discuss,” Mallek said. “It is very difficult when people don’t agree on the facts.”

Thomas L. Frederick Jr.

, the RWSA’s executive director, said in a recent interview that one difficulty in developing a plan such as the water supply is “the possibility that community goals can change while you are doing it.”

“I am not convinced that they have changed,” he said.

City Councilor

Kristin Szakos

said in a recent interview that she has yet to finalize her position heading into Thursday’s meeting.

“Before I solidify my view, I want to wait for the work session. [The City Council is] also meeting with Mr. Frederick individually to get his perspective, and that will be really helpful to me,” Szakos said. “When those are done, I don’t see anything standing in the way of making a decision.”

At the last City Council meeting, after spirited public comment on the water plan, several councilors said the debate needed to be “fact-based.” They said personal attacks against members of the community with a position for or against the plan had been both unpleasant and ineffective.

The water plan represents the largest joint project ever pursued by these localities since the

formation of the RWSA in 1972

. At that time, state and federal regulators pressured Charlottesville and Albemarle to combine their water and sewer systems.

Gerald Fisher

served on the county Board of Supervisors from 1972 to 1987 and was chairman during the contentious 1982 debate over the land acquisition for the

Buck Mountain Reservoir

in Free Union.

“I am very glad there are current leaders who can work this out. I just hope they can make the right decisions and go on with it,” Fisher said in an interview. “Sometimes I feel like a lot of time is spent going back over things that have already been decided.”

Fisher worked with then-Mayor

Frank Buck

in months of cost-sharing negotiations before an agreement on Buck Mountain was reached in 1983. That reservoir was expected to be needed by 2015, but it was never built, in part because the property was later found to be habitat for the James spinymussel, a federally listed endangered species.

Twenty-eight years later, city and county officials are once again about to negotiate cost-sharing matters and the overall approach to preparing the community for future droughts and population growth.

Specifically, officials must consider whether to satisfy the projected needs fully through construction of a new dam at Ragged Mountain versus partially through dredging to restore capacity at the

South Fork Rivanna Reservoir


Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan

has advocated for dredging South Fork, which it says will meet the community’s water supply needs for at least the next three decades.

Regardless of how the storage problem is solved, decisions are also looming for other major projects to maintain the existing water supply system. These include upgrading water treatment plants, replacing aging pipelines, and fixing or replacing the 1908 dam at Ragged Mountain. These projects are all part of the 2006 plan that the RWSA now says has a total price tag of $142,623,500 in capital costs alone.

Szakos was not on the City Council when the water plan was approved unanimously in 2006. She indicated in an interview that the city can’t ignore the county’s future needs.

“I don’t really see us dropping in water demand here,” Szakos said. “We will have population growth, maybe not within the city limits, but we are all one community and we can’t just take our marbles and go home.”

The council is expected to follow up its work session with a public hearing in late September. Cost-sharing is one issue Szakos expects to be raised.

“There are some real serious concerns by city ratepayers that they will bear a disproportionate cost for this project, one which wouldn’t be necessary if it was only for the city,” she said. “We have to be responsible to our taxpayers.”

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