21 February 2008

Water Supply--The Combined Form

The Progress, Cville, Hook, Cville Tomorrow, and Cvillenews.com have all covered the water supply debate. To buy wholly into the Cville Water Supply group's position throws out years of discussion and planning. I don't think that's wise. Furthermore, I am beginning to resent the "We should do this, not that" presentation of the arguments. For once, can we get beyond the "my way or highway" mentality surrounding this issue? The only two people I have consistently seen demonstrate an openness to amend plans backed up by practical knowledg of workable solutions are Ridge Schuyler and Tom Frederick. They've been getting short shrift from the media these days, and have certainly taken a pounding in the recent "debates," but they still remain open. For this, they deserve a lot more respect and better treatment than what they've gotten.

I cannot speak for all of us who support the Ragged Mountain Dam/South Fork pipeline option, but I can say that I see the dredging of the SFRR as a separate issue. And I support both.

Dredging the SFRR is, in my opinion, a short-term solution. The problem with the South Fork is sedimentation--specifically a high rate of sedimentation than an expert (and I am not one, but I talk with them frequently) would deem normal. That is true throughout our watershed, by the way. There is too much erosion, too much sediment in our watershed overall (my guess is that it's due to overdevelopment and poor stormwater management practices/systems), and it is silting in SFRR. Until we can get a handle on how to slow and eventually stop that process, the monies we spend dredging the South Fork now will need to be followed up with more monies to dredge it again. How soon, I do not know. But, again, I would guess that, without more monies spent on drastic, remedial buffer repair and streambank restoration, we would be shooting ourselves in the foot.

This I do know: Vegetation takes time to root, that means it will be a while before it can do its job of filtering sedmiment from a stormwater event before it hits an open watercourse like a stream or river. Whether we decide to do restoration work on the open courses that feed the SFRR or not, we will still have a sedimentation problem for years. To me, therefore, dredging the SFRR as a water-supply solution it does not sound like a great option for the near haul. For a 50-year plan, yes, but for a 10-year or 20-year plan, not so much.

As Kevin Lynch has so frequently pointed out, this is the kind of infrastructure project that has to be done in phases. What sense does it make to spend most of your front-end money working on a project that does not have a front-end return?

For that reason, I support raising the Ragged Mountain Dam and building the pipeline from SFRR. But what I would like to see is a combination of these goals. This could be produced by raising the RM dam 20-22 feet (not the full height) and building the pipeline in the first phase. As Tom Frederick has pointed out several times, to apparently deaf ears, this would also satisfy DEQ permits already received.

While that is going on, get a second estimate on dredging and let the Rivanna Basin Commission do its job by reporting back on what it would take to alleviate the sediment issues around the South Fork. Dredging the South Fork once makes sense, because the job might pay for itself given that the airport needs the dirt. Dredging it multiple times if the causes of sedimentation aren't addressed doesn't.

Then, if it seems that the sedimentation issues can be addressed, look into the costs of that project and incorporate them into the second phase of the water-supply project. If it can't be addressed, then look into raising Ragged Mountain the rest of the way.

This is a more nuanced position than I'm hearing out there from the cvillewater.info group. It's not a sexy option, it's a practical option. It allows RWSA to get on with its business of actually proving to the state we're going to do something about water supply while still keeping the dredging door open provided further information proves the project long-term viable.

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