How Reservoir Mistakes Happened

Continuing their series of exposés about the reservoir, The Hook this week features an article about all of the opportunities that our government had to get things right, but missed or ignored. Both the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority and the Board of Supervisors got close to getting things right — and apparently had the necessary information to do so — but failed to manage it. Now it looks pretty clear that it would be cheap to fix the Ragged Mountain dams, and that simply dredging would take care of the area’s water needs for decades to come.

39 thoughts on “How Reservoir Mistakes Happened”

  1. I wouldn’t be to quick to buy into the Hook’s take on this. First off, they identify Jeff Werner as being with SELC, rather than PEC. How good can their research be, if they misidentify someone they’ve quoted hundreds of times in the past. How many people are in the new sustainable water supply group anyway- the picture has 5 people? I’m not convinced….

  2. An excellent piece of investigative journalism !!!!

    This is not a $37 million dollar Reservoir expansion project as Mr. Frederick would have us believe. The 112 foot dam at Ragged Mountain obligates us in the near future to build a $60 million dollar pipeline from South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to Ragged Mt. Reservoir to fill it, with a pre-treatment facility and pump, to pump the water 9.5miles uphill. Don’t be fooled before this is over the $100 million dollar dam and pipeline will cost far more, just ask a builder

    We need an objective cost estimate from an experienced dredging company before we will know the real cost of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir

    If you would like to help bring this about go to:

    and county folks the Board of Supervisors has never held a public hearing isn’t it about time?

  3. Thanks to Mrs. Mooney and her group and to Mr. Spencer. This is a great example of why local Authorities are not instruments of democracy. Although, four-fifths of the Authority’s board are public “servants” it appears that they answer to no one but themselves. I know that our current Council have no backbone when it comes to dealing with Gary O’Connell and Judith Mueller, but the BoS have always seemed to have a different relationship with Mr. Tucker and his staff. Who exactly is accountable to the public in this matter?

  4. This issue of hazardous lead in dredge material and Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) analysis is fishy (sorry). TCLP testing is overkill, and fits with the general impression that the consultant is leading the Authority by it’s nose ring.

    Without going into the details, the available TOTAL metals testing is sufficient to assume that the dredge material is clean fill. In fact, most regulators like to see TOTALS testing over TCLP as it shows what is actually in the sediment, not just what is likely to leach out.

    I believe it is time for the Authority to seek a second opinion. The dredging option should be evaluated by someone who actually does dredging. Those people have experience with dredge spoil management and I believe they would confirm my unsolicited opinion.

  5. Obviously, there was something in it for the consultants who have now become the contractors. Typical of City-led processes. “ast October, the firm won the $3.1 million contract for engineering the new Ragged Mountain dam”

  6. No, they are not the contractors. They have had they engineering CONSULTING agreement expanded and extended. Which means that they will continue to advise and guide what looks to be a very pliable Authority.

    The real cost begins when the Contractors are tasked with building Gannett Fleming’s design.

  7. When Ridge Schuyler, Piedmont Director of the Nature Conservancy,spoke at the November 19, 2007 City Council Public Hearing he said the following: quoting from the Daily Progress,

    “the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority has chosen the South Fork Pipeline Option for it’s 50 year Water Supply Plan, the alternative widely supported by local officials and praised by environmentalists”

    Exactly what is the $37 million dollar plan Frederick is talking about now? Is it the same plan that Mr. Schuyler said the officials and environmentalists unanimously supported in 2006. Or has Mr. Frederick now dropped the South Fork Pipeline altogether. One of the major problems is nowhere does the RWSA water supply proposal exist on paper and each time Mr. Frederick talks about it in public he describes it differently . We need a clearly written detailed document other than the 80 page permit application which is not a Water Supply Plan, but just that a permit, with no details as to how it is to be implemented. The City Council has requested such a document but as yet none has appeared.

  8. I heard Hawes Spencer and Kevin Lynch slice up RWSA’s Tom Frederick on the radio yesterday. It is clear that someone or some group has just decided that there will be no dredging no matter what and they are not going to change, even though the reservoir will silt in without dredging. The whole thing just stinks and I thank Kevin for doing his best to expose this mismanagement of our tax money AND our resources.

  9. I still have faith in TNC, SELC and PEC, all of which support the current proposal. These groups have thousands of loyal supporters and decades of experience studying these types of projects, and determining the most environmentally sensitive options. They would not support the current water supply plan if it were not the best option. I highly doubt that the Hook, Lynch, and others have done any where close to as exhaustive a study of the current water supply plan as these groups have. It’s time to move ahead and solve our water supply obligation to this community.

  10. 88, do you know how much time anybody has put into studying this issue? If so, how do you know? It is often a mistake to make judgments based upon perceived repurtations. I, for one, do not wish to move forward to a $100 /month water bill.

  11. I believe the new dam falls into the ‘legacy’ category. It’s much more appealing to build something new that has your name associated with it, than it is to take care of the things you already have. Something along the lines of axing Crow Pool, over-renovating Smith Pool, & giving the YMCA chunks of park land… As one of the many people who pay for them, I’m really getting sick of legacy projects.

  12. As usual, Elizabeth is on the button. Thinking more about 88’s comments, until I hear from these “environmentalists,” who fought almost until death to help their friends keep the Western Bypass from being built near the reservoir, explaining why it is perfectly fine to build a reservoir underneath I-64, I will onlyh wonder who, exactly, they are now serving. Right now, they smell of last week’s fish.

  13. You may not have noticed, but the Ragged Mtn. Reservoir is already adjacent to 64. There’s a big difference between building a NEW unnecessary road (the bypass) over an existing reservoir, and expanding an EXISTING reservoir that cannot be moved. This argument against expanding Ragged Mtn. does not hold water.

  14. Has anyone read the permit?

    As I read the permit, to meet our water supply needs over 50 years through dredging we need to dredge a total of 225 acres of sediment from the South Fork over the next 50 years. According to the permit, that’s 4.5 acres per year. Dredging also would need to continue on into the future beyond the 50-year mark, according to the permit because sedimentation will continue to happen.

    I wonder if the Hook asked when it was getting estimates from dredging contractors how much it would cost to continue to dredging 4.5 acres per year for the next 50 years?

    If you read the water supply permit it states:

    “Beyond the 50-year planning horizon of this study, further dredging would have to continue in order to maintain usable storage volume in the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. If the sediment rate of 15.4 MG/year continues beyond the 50-year planning period the same amount of sediment will need to be removed annually to maintain the useable storage of the reservoir. This is a dredging volume of 75,000 CY of sediment, which would need to be removed in each and every year after the 50 year planning period to sustained the described project.”

  15. I wonder if this applies to the water supply plan? Seems like 50 years is a reasonable and required time period to plan for.

    Under heading “Requirements for water supply planning planning regulation” on DEQ’s web site,

    II. Needs Assessment and Alternatives

    A) Projected water demand information

    1. Include projections of future water demand. Population should be estimated according to information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Weldon Cooper Center, the Virginia Employment Commission, or other accepted source of population information. Demand projection methodologies should be consistent with those outlined in the American Water Works Association or American Society of Civil Engineers manuals.

    2. Estimate water demand within the planning area for 30 to 50 years into the future.

    3. Include an estimated future water use projected at the beginning of each decade (2010, 2020, 2030, etc.) within the planning period.

  16. 88, there is absolutely no need to build a road in order to remove siltation. Where did you get this idea from?
    Currently, it is impossible for any 18-wheeler to flip over into the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.
    Why are you spreading, shall we say, misinformation?

  17. And people, just because you have a permit, it doesn’t mean you are legally obligated to use it. You can apply for a different one later. This is America.

  18. cville eye
    you misunderstand. my point had nothing to do with spreading siltation. it was in reference to the notion that environmental groups fought the 29 bypass because of proximity to the sf rivanna reservoir and now they support expanding an existing reservoir near 64, which has been portrayed as a contradiction, but really isn’t.

  19. The Ragged Mt. Reservoir is already next to I-64, that would not change. It would just be more visible. And the north side would go from a small creek to a big lake. The south side is already a lake/marsh directly under, way under, the cliff of I-64.

  20. If we’re talking about mistakes, consider this whooper:

    The Hook accuses the RWSA of misrepresenting the amount of water that the community can use from the South Fork Reservoir because of the mandatory water releases at the South Fork dam into the Rivanna. If you add in those releases that allow water to flow downstream from the South Fork dam then we have more supply than RWSA says we do, the Hook argues.

    By making that assertion, the Hook implies that RWSA and the community could effectively cut off the releases from the South Fork Rivanna and expect all our water supply needs to be solved when, in fact, that’s not likely nor is it a very good idea.

    If RWSA stopped releasing water from the South Fork dam into the Rivanna we would dry out the river downstream of the dam and do serious harm to the river and life in it. I don’t consider that very environmentally friendly.

    It’s also very unlikely that federal and state authorities would allow the community to cut off or substantially reduce the water flowing into a river that connects to the James River and the Chesapeake Bay, which also affects communities downstream.

    In a theoretical “Hook” world, adding back in the extra water from the mandatory releases would increase the safe yield or amount of water we can use from the reservoir.

    But in the real world, actions have consequences. If we stopped releasing water from the South Fork dam into the Rivanna we harm wetlands and wildlife, screw up fishing and canoeing for the community and tourists, and ruin a scenic river.

    I highly doubt that the state or federal government would allow Charlottesville and Albemarle to do something so careless.

  21. To Robert, Gannett Fleming did in fact get a NEW contract with RWSA. See RWSA meeting of Feb 27, 2008. It reads, “RWSA staff solicited for proposals, performed interviews, and selected a consulting engineering firm to perform design and bid services. At its August 2007 meeting the Board authorized the Executive Director to negotiate and execute a contract with Gannett Fleming, Inc.”

    About Ragged Mountain and I-64. We’re talking about what will be Charlottesville’s ONLY reservoir going directly under a major highway. Today, the small Ragged Mt. reservoir does NOT go up to I-64 and besides that may be the least of our worries. The consultants themselves warn of other hazards. Read the technical memorandum for the Jan 20 meeting on the RWSA website where the consultants write,
    “Another potential adverse impact to the I-64 embankment relates to the stability of the engineered highway embankment slopes both on the northern and southern sides. According to Special Report 247
    “Landslides – Investigation and Mitigation” by the Transportation Research Board (TRB), water-level change adjacent to a slope is one of the most common causes for landslides or slope instability.“
    It’s an artificial embankment to begin with!

    And to Colombo, have you considered what will happen to the beloved Rivanna River when we double and triple our DAILY withdrawal from one point in the South Fork, as it becomes virtually the only source of water for our growing community – not to mention the two billion gallons needed to fill the mega-reservoir at Ragged Mountain — that’s coming from the same point of source.

    And then there’s the question of the SILT. As the South Fork continues to silt in, it will become a muddy mess. Even RWSA acknowledges that it will take that silt with it as spills over the dam on a continuous basis. But that won’t be the greatest assault to the Rivanna River. With every storm, it will become, what DEQ and DCR reps called “a giant mixing bowl” sending surges of sediment over the dam, wreaking havoc on the ecosystems below.

    Why would local leaders and environmental groups support such a risky and expensive project? If you like puzzles, you may enjoy trying to figure it out for yourself, especially for those of you who aren’t inclined to believe The Hook.

    Suggestion: Start with

  22. A quick look a Google Maps satellite view ( Pebble Hill Ct, Charlottesville, VA 22903, USA&sa=X&oi=map&ct=title) shows that the Natural Area is straddled byI-64 but the actual reservoir is currently out of the way of most hazmat situations. According to the plans will obviously brng the reservoir after the new flooding much closer and require some expensive buffering: “Note: The steep earthen embankment rising to I-64 was not constructed to hold back water. It will need to be stabilized by stripping, filling, and seeding/mulching as well as constructing extensions of the box culvert with new head walls.” This description is supported by the consultant’s own PDF on RWSA’s site . The blue in the first picture is current and the yellow is future.

  23. I don’t need a map, I’ve been there several times, at that very culvert. Any spill, today, would go directly into the water. The area between the culvert and the lake is a large creek leading to a marsh leading to the open lake. The straight line distance on the Google sat map from culvert to open water on the lake is 600m, but that’s deceptive. Much of that land is often too marshy to walk on, and in any case, a spill would flow directly into the lake. You would never get equipment down there to contain it in less than half a day, there are no access roads. People don’t know it, but it’s there. It’s also against regs right now to go there. The agreement Ivy Creek Foundation made with the landowners and city, back when they built the parking lot, included establishing rules against visitors having dogs or going off-trail. It was more fun before that.

    I don’t know what to think about this issue. I sorta trust people on both sides, but the Hook article is compelling. Are the dredging estimates reliable? Must take a lot of energy, but everything about water does, especially pumping it uphill. It’s disconcerting that the pipe from the Rivanna Reservoir to Ragged Mtn. would be uphill. It’s also obvious that officials & engineers etc. tend to prefer big capital projects to maintaining what we have. You could write a library of examples of that.

    One of the most decrepit bridges in Cville carries the 250 Bypass over the N.S. railroad tracks, at McIntire Park. It is rated lower than the Belmont Bridge, which the city will spend big $$ to replace soon. The county gets its roads for free from the state, is that right?

  24. Colfer, you seem convinced that even now there is a danger of a hazardous spill from I64 entering the Ragged Mt. Reservoir, isn’t that all the more reason to have a redundant system with the 3 reservoirs that we have today (Sugar Hollow, South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, and Ragged Mountain). The RWSA water supply proposal by cutting off the Sugar Hollow Pipeline and allowing the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to silt in, will end up with one reservoir in 50 years ( Ragged Mt.) and it will as Lorax and Cville Eye point out, not only come close to 64, it will go under 64.

    Let’s convince our elected officials that no one spends $143 million dollars with only one estimate of the cost. We can do better !!!!

    Let’s also help the airport extend their runway. They need $44million dollars of fill. I’m sure a sharp business person can make a deal, get the SFRR dredged (giving us plenty of water for decades), build the runway, and save us millions of dollars.

  25. I can tell you, the more I sniff, the more fish from last week I smell. At least four out of the five members of RWS have no experience that I know of in building reservoirs. Two of those four have a demonstrated ability to spend millions on studies and designs resulting in millions in cost overruns. Yet, they also deomonstrate a strange aversion to a dredging study. Fishy, fishy, fishy. Gary O’Connell seems to be approaching this project in the same way he approached the new computer system that is still $millions away from being installed: with tunnel vision. Unfortunately for us city residents, our elected officials have demonstrated they operate under his thumb with little wiggle room, so I have little hope in their instructing him to conduct a dredging study. Maybe Mr. O’Connell has other plans for the SFR reservoir and he doesn’t want to lay it out to the public yet. In a growing community, does it really make any sense to go from three to one reservoir as Mrs. Mooney states? Can anyone think of a reason why the four public servants refuse to use the word “drdge” publicly? Can anyone think of any reason a community would allow a body of water as large as the SFR reservoir to silt into uselessness, when many of today’s environmentalists predict there will be a crisis in potable water worldwide during the 21st century? I also find it strange that the public keeps quizzing Mr. Frederick with questions dealing with policies he did not establish. He answers to those that hired him. Maybe future questions should be directed from the public to Mr. O’Connell in the future and have him account for his decisions. Fishy, fishy, fishy.
    colfer, doesn’t the County have to pitch in about 10% for the replacement of the Advance Mills bridge? I’m not sure.

  26. Betty Mooney, $37 million is for the Ragged Mountain dam construction only. Raising the Ragged Mtn Dam is just one component of a 50-year water supply plan.

    There are other elements of the water supply plan that would have to be addressed by RWSA even if dredging had been chosen as an option. You still have to upgrade water treatment plants. You still have to fix the Ragged Mtn. dam. You have to replace an aging pipeline.

    So add that to the cost of dredging and the other necessary upgrades, please, so citizens can understand the real costs of dredging.

  27. Kevin, you are right even if dredging supplies all the water we will need for the 50 year plan or if we need to combine it with also restoring the capacity at Sugar Hollow which was diminshed after the flood a few years ago. We still don’t know how this option would compare in cost to the current RWSA proposal, because we have never had a cost estimate from an experienced dredging company. Right now we have one estimate and that is from the consultants who specialize in building dams and pipelines and as Lorax has pointed out have received a new contract with RWSA for “design and bid services” for the new dam that RWSA is proposing.
    Wouldn’t you agree we need a cost comparison before spending over $100 million on a new dam and pipeline ?

  28. The real cost of dredging can not be determined in a blog. Brainstorming does not provide an effective nor rational solution in projects of this magnitude. Bits and pieces of information scattered in various places on the internet does not represent data. To learn the REAL cost of a project that incorporates significant dredging of SFR reservoir, we will need a bona fide study so that the community can have a solid document to evaluate as to feasibility and desirability. It certainly is not incumbent upon Mrs. Mooney and her group to amass this information themselves. Would anybody expect anything less from a “World Class” community with a nationally ranked university in its midst?

  29. One of the things we need to be talking about is the absolute pristine beauty of the Ragged Mountain area. It’s difficult to watch officials of our local government be so anxious to raze such a vast mature forest, when alternatives are available. Especially alarming is the artificial timeline which has led to this artificial emergency.

    Please, local officials, get out and walk the trails of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. We have a priceless gem in our own back yard. Let us fight to preserve it – or weep when it’s gone.

  30. There was nothing artificial about last year’s drought or the restrictions it brought on the community. In this area last year the drought’s effects were severe enough that it allowed Albemarle County farmers to meet eligibility for loans through federal disaster aid.

    But perhaps that was a conspiracy, too.

  31. Is there a suggestion here that, if we had had the proposed new water system in place last year, the farmers would have had enough water in the reservoir to irrigate?
    For the last twenty years, it seems there is a constant federal disaster being declared some where in central Virginia.

  32. So, you do believe there’s a conspiracy, Cville Eye. Better put on your tin foil hat so the government satellites won’t getcha.

  33. You answer my question and I’ll answer yours. What is the connection between the new water system and agricultural drought relief. If you have no answer, then you have made no point.

  34. I reference federal disaster aid for farmers to underscore the fact that the drought and the shortage of water in our rivers and streams was not “artificial,” it was real.

    The drought in the region and state last year was severe and did have an significant impact on the amount of water in our rivers, streams and reservoirs. But you could have just taken a trip to one of our area’s waterways to see the impact of the drought.

  35. This is from the web-site of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan

    Myth # 1:
    We are running out of water.

    FALSE. We do not have a water shortage in our area. We do, however, have an impending problem with loss of capacity to store reserves due to the neglect of our current facilities. By addressing the siltation of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir (SFRR) in a positive and scientific way, the community could meet near-term and projected growth out for years to come. In addition, saving the SFRR would preserve a valuable community asset as well as allow considerable time to find additional capacity for the future.

  36. columbo, thank you for your explanation. I don’t think those of us who are advocating for a look at dredging with greater depth are also questioning the fact that we have had many droughts that have resulted in water shortages.
    You answered my question, now I’ll answer what I think is yours: do I think that those in the decision-making seats are involved in some kind of conspiracy because they refuse to consider any other alternatives to closing down two reservoirs and relying solely upon one which will be straddled by I-64?
    Sometimes my reasoning starts at the beginning and occasionally it starts at the end. If RWSA continues along this current path, what will we end up with? One reservoir at mountainous Ragged Mountain which has been enshrined in Americana by Poe and thus have many impediments to development. I have never been to Sugar Hollow (I always thought it was for Girls Scouts), but it is probably as developable as South Fork Rivanna reservoir. These areas are PRIME for real estate development in western Albemarle and I can see a posh gated community around SFR. I’m sure the wealthy homeowners’ association will gladly put up for a Mud Cat to keep their private lake for recreational purposes. Going back to the beginning of each of these reservoirs, I can not believe they were established by a bunch of idiots who had no clue as to how to provide for sufficient water in the future. Is there a conspiracy? I am not included in the private conversations between developers, elected official and government staff, but I have seen plenty of individuals from all three groups eventuallly establish mutually beneficial relationships through the years. I hope someone can come with a plausible, intelligent reason as to why this group of bureaucrats refuse a simple study? I do not recall a minute in the last ten years that the City has not had at least one study in progress.

  37. columbo, this article points out facts that obviously shows Gary O’Connell is capable of being embroiled in a conspiracy. He and Bob Tucker know full well that they should not negotiate with employees behind a governing board’s back. Boards appoint their own negotiators. It is clear that he also knowlingly lied to Council while conducting public business.

  38. What’s that saying you can dress up a pig and put lipstick on it, but it’s still a pig.

    Betty, a loss of capacity to store water is still a water shortage.

  39. Thinking back on what Kevin Lynch said at a council meeting, the reservoir was somewhere above 70% of capacity (don’t remember how much above)which ended up being much more water than we used. So, technically speaking, we had water restrictions in place to prevent a possible water shortage. Sounds like I’m spinning, but restrictions before shortage.

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