A New Dam Cheaper than Fixing the Old One?

It may be cheaper to build a new dam than repair the existing one, Rachana Dixit wrote in yesterday’s Progress. The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority‘s executive director says that the engineers studying what to do with the dam figure that the cost of repairs would exceed the cost of tearing it down and starting again, though that’s just a preliminary conclusion. That’s the opposite of what the prior consultants said…though they were fired. In the case of such wildly varying information, it’s tough to know what to believe.

32 Responses to “A New Dam Cheaper than Fixing the Old One?”


  • I went out to Ragged Mt. recently and what I found were dam facilities that look like they haven’t been visited, much less maintained, by RWSA staff in 20 years. Shattered glass, broken furniture, animal feces. This is how they maintain the infrastructure they have and now they want a shiny new $200 million dam. Shameful. I’m reminded of the mall re-bricking where they conveniently stopped maintaining the old surface a few years before telling council that they’d have to splurge for a $7 million project. This is how Gary O’Connell and Judy Mueller work.
    And for Tom Frederick to say that fixing the old dam might cost more than the new one (he doesn’t even know how much that will be) insults everyone’s intelligence.

  • Looks like Rodney Thomas refusing to sign the water pledge was a good move. Is there anything Gannett-Fleming got right and how can we tell?

  • The more our water usage drops, now down 25% in ten years, the more convinced I am that we don’t need the new dam. The most complete work Gannett Fleming did was a dam safety study in 2002-2003 and they found that all that needs repairing is the spillway at Ragged Mt. Dam, because of new climate regulations from the Dam Safety Dept. In 2003 that was $3 million, and they said the dam, with this repair, would be sound for 100 years. Let’s dredge the South Fork get plenty of water for decades, sell what Bob Fenwick has shown could be valuable dirt, once it is de-watered, and valuable sand and gravel, as shown by Blue Ridge Sand, who gave Rivanna a proposal to dredge in 2005, which was kept from the public. Then, we will have decades to see if the economy recovers, and if houses sell again, and if the population keeps pace with now inaccurate projections. All this information is required to have a State Approved Water Plan which must be on file by 2011. We must estimate decade by decade the amount of water we need. We presently do not have that information and to go forward without it is completely foolish and irresponsible of our elected officials.

    Once we know how much water we need in the state required 30 – 50 year time frame, only then will we know if dredging satisfies that need. To spend over 200 million on all new water infrastructure when all signs point to new technologies that will allow us to use less water is crazy !

    It is not a believable statement to say repairing Ragged Mt. Dam would cost more than an entirely new dam. And by correctly calculating the water demand based on our 10 year drop in usage we won’t need to raise the old dam or build a new dam. We will only need to dredge and repair the Ragged Mt. spillway and eventually replace or repair the Sugar Hollow Pipeline for by all accounts 100’s of millions of dollars less than a new dam ( with unknown costs) needing a complicated I-64 embankment reinforcement, and an uphill pipeline between South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and Ragged Mt. requiring silt removal, electricity, land acquisition, pumps, maintenance, and a route that doesn’t exist

  • In the City election please vote for Bob Fenwick and Dave Norris, who have been clear and decisive, insisting in all candidate forums, and in their written and public remarks, that we get the costs before any construction is done on a new dam at Ragged Mountain. Mr. Fenwick has been even more outspoken against the dam, and is against spending any more money designing the dam before we know the cost and feasibility of dredging. Both Norris and Fenwick believe we should base the amount of water needed for the plan on a more realistic conservation number than the current 5%, given that we have already dropped 25% below the number the plan estimates we would be using in 2008.

  • The dam proponents, and apparently an official at DEQ, claim we are already very efficient in our water use. I ask this official to look around at the rest of the US. And look at our 10 year trend of using 25% less water than is in the current plan. We have only just begun. Guess he doesn’t realize that we don’t even have legal rainwater harvesting yet in Virginia. To say we have done all we can for the next 50 years to lower our water consumption is, as my grandmother would say, baloney. This is more an attempt to get the DEQ to co-operate with the County Board of Supervisors in their never ending attempt to stop dredging as a replacement to building a $200 million dollar dam at Ragged Mt., and uphill pipeline from South Fork, costing probably over $100 million just on its own.

    http://www.readthehook.com/blog/index.php/2009/08/08/n-braine-harvesting-story-prompts-letter-to-gov-kaine/#comments

  • I am startled. Council didn’t buy Frederick’s may-might speech. Frederick often employs that tool when he wishes to instill fear. Even the dam proponents at ACSA does’t seem to want to sound the alarm on that one. All he has done is highlighted the information he didn’t have when he was pushing RWSA full steam ahead, and highlighting the necessary information he still doesn’t have. See what can happen when people start paying attention? I’m beginning to think that poor Mr. Frederick’s days are numbered at RWSA. I’m sure he’s anxious to get a new job somewhere else before he loses professional credibility.
    BTW, does anyone know how RWSA is planning to get water to the future North Point development that will be near Greene County?

  • Thomas L. Frederick, Jr. P.E., Executive Director of the Rivanna Water, Sewer, and Solid Waste Authority has already lost his credibility with the public. Looks like he has blown the water plan, the Meadowcreek sewer plan, and the Solid Waste Authority is mirred in scandal and financial ruin.

    Who would hire this guy ?

    Does anyone know what happened in Asheville, N.C, his last public utility job, apparently he left under a cloud of controversy.

  • Mark, can you elaborate? Or are you just throwing out allegations and hoping they stick? Other than the fact that he left as Asheville’s water resource director after only three years and didn’t wait for a replacement to be found, I can’t find any evidence of underlying issues on the interwebs

  • **** all documents sealed as to why he left–sounds suspicious to me, but since there is no available information there is no evidence. Any one know someone in Asheville who was around in 1999-2001 and was active in water affairs ?

  • **** maybe you can help. Wouldn’t you think there would be some mention of his leaving in the local newspaper. Couldn’t find any could you ? Or why he left. This is the last article I could find before he left titled “Troubled Water ”

    Mountain Xpress News / Troubled waters

  • Mark, I’ve already emailed someone in the area. If I hear anything back I’ll post it here or another appropriate location.

  • **** thanks, here is the date of the article I referenced

    Published on: 10/3/2002

  • Despoiled by decades of neglect, political abuse, turf battles, lawsuits and threats of lawsuits, our local water system is in a state of crisis, with little immediate hope for improvement. The Regional Water Authority estimates that 1,100 miles of lines need repair or replacement (at a cost of $35 to $75 per linear foot, depending on the terrain). About 27 percent of the treated water the system produces is lost before it reaches the end user. And because ours is not a truly autonomous water authority, we’re forced to pay the state Department of Transportation more than $1 million a year to relocate water lines displaced by highway projects.

    Meanwhile, debt-service payments drain 28 percent of water revenues. Another 7.5 percent of the water budget — money that has absolutely nothing to do with water — goes to Asheville and Buncombe County, disguised in the Water Agreement as payments in lieu of taxes. Water rates have increased 32 percent in the last 10 years and will only continue to rise.
    Sound familiar? That was written about Asheville’s problems the year after Tom Frederick left as Director of Water Resources.
    full story here:
    http://www.mountainx.com/opinion/2007/0424mahaffey.php/
    I’m going to keep digging.

  • Great sleuthing!

  • Exactly what I thought, sounds like we’re in the middle of Ashville deja vous .

  • If want to understand why this is a terrible plan for City Residents. Dede Smith and Richard Lloyd explain this and more on today’s Schilling show

    http://www.wina.com/play_window.php?audioType=Episode&audioId=4084491

  • **** Thanks for that info, scary, sounds way too familiar.

  • Yes, Betty Mooney, that is a must-listen-two. They got through two pages of information and they have about twenty more for future shows. Although I listenend to it today, I’m going to listen to it again. There’s just two much information.
    It’s funny in a way and sad in another. We have a handful of citizens who have taken the time to find out a ton of information that the paid staff at RWSA didn’t know how to discover. I think, at the end of all of this, RWSA should write you group a big check.

  • Shades of the Scottie Griffin hiring. It seems like when the HR Depts. go to hire a person for a lower level position they delve into your background extensively with information verification, reference checks, credit checks, etc. But if you’re in a higher level of hiring for a dept. head or a superintendent, they don’t want to offend you by not taking your word for everything that you’ve put down. Or maybe they figure you can be trusted to be telling the truth more than the guy who drives the delivery truck. That’s just my take.

  • I wonder how many city residents understand that the city owns all three reservoirs and the dams clear and free of debt. City residents have paid for this and now, under the current plan to build a new dam and pipeline, all this will be lost in the 50 year time frame. That could amount to a $300 million dollar loss in assets, and then the city will have to buy into the new infrastructure, now estimated to cost over $200 million. Dede Smith and Richard LLoyd did an excellent job explaining this on the Schilling show.

    Instead of maintaining our assets, our water and sewer rates will rise dramatically to destroy them. Who would support that ?

    Albemarle County Water Resource Manager, Greg Harper, agrees that there is a better way

    http://www.readthehook.com/blog/index.php/2008/11/24/pumped-up-county-water-guru-says-numbers-inflated/

  • Cville Eye, thank you for the compliment, but instead of a check we would appreciate it if just one of our elected official would join our group and the Sierra Club, and instead of signing a pledge, as several Supervisors and candidates signed, saying the present plan is the most economical and environmental, would sign on to the Sierra Club Statement:

    > Rethinking Our Water Plan
    >
    > The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club believes that new information requires
    > the Charlottesville/Albemarle Community to take a fresh look at our water
    > needs for the decades ahead. Our community should consider a new water plan
    > with different priorities that draws on the resources of our local
    > watersheds. This plan should emphasize the following:
    >
    > Water conservation
    >
    > Preservation of ecosystems and other natural resources
    >
    > The potential for capacity restorative dredging of the Rivanna Reservoir

  • I failed to mention that the Schilling show with Dede Smith and Mr. Lloyd is 2 hours and this is the link to the first hour. It starts after 3min of the program and explains the Nature Conservancy involvement and the City infrastructure issue.

    http://www.wina.com/The-Schilling-Show/3063561

  • My question is this:
    If we spent millions of dollars for Gannett-Fleming to come up with numbers upon which we’ve based future water decisions, and if (taking him at his word), according to Tom Frederick himself, those numbers are not to be believed because they are off by perhaps a magnitude of 10, then why aren’t we suing Gannett-Fleming, rather than Mr. VanderLinde?

  • Yes, Frederick was a staunch supporter of GF, but recently he has said that his staff had questioned GF’s figures. Both sides of the mouth when politically convenient?

  • Yes, Betty Mooney. The revelations of the future ramifications of ownership was an eye-opener. I think the prize is the County’s wresting ownership of the water infrastructure rather than having the city’s trump of ownership to be lurking in the background. We all knew it had nothing to do with providing water for people who will move here 50 years from now.

  • HA! I haven’t even listened to the program you’ve linked to and I’ve been saying the same thing this morning over on the Hook!

  • **** any news from Asheville. I’ll bet something happened there and maybe it’s time for a road trip

  • Please consider that Tom Frederick receives instruction from and reports to the RWSA board of directors headed by Mike Gafney. Gafney was recently reappointed.as the citizens reprentative by City Council headed by Mayor Norris. That was rather breathtaking as Gafney is a developer from the county.

    Who is protecting the city residents from the destruction of the three reservoirs?

    Why are only the city assets being destroyed?

    Please don’t blame only Tom Frederick. He is the lowest man on the list.

  • Oh, beleive me, the others, including some members of the ACSA have been tortured here.

  • Richard, good point. Having a major volume developer in charge of the group is completely inappropriate. RWSA has been an embarrassing mess for a while now I have to say. Either they’re completely incompetent or completely corrupt. I’m not sure which is worse.

  • Placing someone in a decision-making position (having a vote) on a committee, someone who stands to make $$M from the decision of that committee, is not uncommon in Charlottesville. The Charlottesville Housing Advisory Committee, for example, has many of them. Richard Spurzeme (currently redeveloper of Longwood Drive), Charlie Armstron (officer of Southern Development, prolific developer in the City), an representative from Region Ten, PHA, Habitat for Humanity, CAAR, AHIP, and JABA.

  • “an representative” = “and representatives.” This committee is the result of Mayor Norris’ ideas and efforts on council. He’s got a lot to learn.

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