What's Next for the Community Water Plan?

A new citizen group called Charlottesville Open Government Alliance has formed to raise funds for and support a legal effort to stop the Ragged Mountain Project. Read more about the lawsuit below.

Sign the petition to Stop the Illegal Ragged Mountain Dam Plan!

On January 17, 2012, Charlottesville City Council voted 3-2 to approve a highly controversial cost-share agreement and a land transfer, and approval to build the new Ragged Mountain dam to its full original height essentially giving up hundreds of millions of dollars in city assets.

On March 23, Charlottesville resident (and immigration lawyer) Stan Breverman, filed a lawsuit claiming the agreements were approved illegally. Breverman contends that the agreed to leases for land and water rights are essentially a sale and therefore, according to City Code, a referendum of the people is required and according to the Virginia State Constitution a supermajority of Council is required for approval. Read more here.

The following is what 3 of the 5 city councilors signed away.

  1. LOSS OF THE SFRR: The proposed cost share agreement strips the City and ACSA of 80% of the water rights held in the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir (SFRR) by limiting any accounting of useable storage to 200 MG total. Currently the SFRR has a useable volume of 988 MG (HDR bathymetric study ). This nullifies any motivation to dredge the SFRR for water supply as the water rights will not be allowed to be reinstated.
  2. LOSS OF WATER RIGHTS: The proposed cost share agreement robs the City of its current water rights. The City owns all three reservoirs and 12.8 mgd of water rights stored in them. (See Four-party agreement) The City currently leases those water rights to RWSA for $1 per year, but that expires in June. This agreement allocates only 4.7 mgd of the 12.8 to the City, taking 7.1 mgd away with no compensation. It gives ACSA 4.1 mgd for free and disregards the remainder of the 12.8 mgd.
  3. FORCED TO BUY MORE WATER: The City having been stripped of more than half its water rights, will be forced to "buy into" the new water project at Ragged Mountain.
  4. Agreeing to pay 20% of the new water brings the City's allocation to 6.71 mgd (down from today's 12.8) and still does not meet City and UVA projection for demand in 50 years..
  5. CASH PENALTIES LIKELY: If the City exceeds its allocation of 6.71 mgd in any given year, they will have to buy more water rights by paying ACSA. Essentially, the City will have to buy back the water stolen from it in the agreement.
  6. CITY RATEPAYERS COULD PAY FOR UVA GROWTH: If UVA is the reason that the City exceeds its new water rights allocation, city residents will have to pay the penalty.

More about the history of the debate:


On October 17, 2011 In a 3-2 vote, City Council approves Regional Water Plan that includes outdated and inaccurate information and withholds relevant information required by the state
Read CSWP letter to City Council

Read all about it: Citizens fight back!
SUSTAINABLE WATER PLAN: Dredge First – Dam Later
(click here)

Learn more about the issue:
What They Said, What We Now Know
(click here)

Red Herrings: Common myths about the Community Water Plan
(click here)

Earlier attempts to stop the project

Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan sent letters to state and federal regulators requesting reevaluation and termination of permits to build a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area based on their respective regulations.
CSWP letter to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality: April 5, 2011
CSWP letter to the federal Army Corps of Engineers: April 5, 2011
CSWP Press release: April 12, 2011
Permit modification letter submitted to DEQ and COE by RWSA: March 22, 2011
Hydrologics Report that accompanied permit modification letter
CSWP letter to DEQ and COE in response to permit modification: April 12, 2011

is a group of local citizens concerned about the environmental, financial, and social implications of the 50-year Community Water Plan for the Charlottesville Urban Service Area. We believe that there has been incomplete and misleading information about the plan.

In addition, new studies commissioned since the adoption of the plan has revealed significant new information that contradicts the information on which the plan was presented and permitted.

We feel that our elected officials have the fudiciary obligation to consider all this new information and modify plans for expansion based on the most recent and best information available.

What is the Issue?

How to insure an adequate water supply for the "Urban Service Area" - namely the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County's "urban ring" in the event of another drought of record (like that of 2002) anytime in the next 50 years.

Can we survive a drought today?

The Charlottesville-Albemarle area has an abundance of water. The Rivanna River alone could supply all of the daily water needs into the foreseeable future. With three reservoirs serving the urban area, and a decreasing demand for water, there is no threat of a water shortage today, even in a drought.

However, many residents remember with anguish the drought of 2002, for its severe water restrictions. Even though 2002 is considered as the worst in record, our community still had more than 100 days of water storage left at the time the drought ended. Furthermore, in 2002 before the drought, we were using 15% more water on average than we are today. Due to conservation technology, water demand is decreasing across the country.

How much water do we need?

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) commissioned a "Demand Analysis" in 2004 to project how much water the community will need in the year 2055. That study looked at data only through 2001 and disregarded the pending impact of the 1992 Energy Policy Act that mandated low-volume, high-efficiency plumbing fixtures. The 2004 study estimated a demand of 19.8 mgd, up from 11.2 mgd in 2001. Factoring in a mere 5% conservation goal, they adjusted the demand projection to 18.7 mgd by 2055.

In the last decade water use in the Charlottewville-Albemarle area has decreased dramatically, despite a 12% rise in population. This is largely due to the federal Energy Policy Act of 1992 that set mandatory conservation standards for high efficiency toilets, showerheads and faucets manufactured after 1994. It is anticipated that there will be a 50% reduction in the water used by these three fixtures alone. The water savings will likely be much greater though as other fixtures such as washing machines are replaced with high efficiency models and even greater innovations in HE fixtures come on line.

This is playing out locally, as we observe that the urban community is using 26% less water than the Demand Analysis projected. Factoring in actual water use data since 2001 - and, without considering future advances in conservation, we conservatively estimate our urban community will need no more than 14.5 mgd by 2055.

So what's the Plan?

RWSA and the proponents of the Community Water Plan propose to reconfigure the reservoir system from three moderately sized reservoirs to one large reservoir that will flow under I-64.
The plan includes:

  • Construction of a new 135 foot dam at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area for which they will clearcut 193 acres of mature forest. 135 acres will be flooded which will bring the newly expanded reservoir under
    I-64 and 30 feet up its embankment on both sides.
  • The installation of a new 9.5-mile pipeline across the urban area outside Charlottesville to pump water uphill from the Rivanna River to fill up the new expanded RMR, (RMR has little to no natural inflow.)
  • Construction of a new pre-treatment plant at the SFRR to remove silt before pumping to RMR
  • Installation of two high lift pumps for water transfer between SFRR-RMR
  • Upgrade and enlarge the Observatory Water Treatment Plant.
  • Enlarge the South Fork Water Treatment Plant
  • Mitigate for 14,435 ft of stream loss and 3.5 acres of wetland loss
  • Mitigate for the loss of four historic structures at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area.
  • Eliminate direct access to the Sugar Hollow Reservoir
  • Allow the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to silt in
  • Streamflow: Reduce minimum release to the Rivanna River from
    8 mgd to 1.3 mgd; Increase release to the Moormans River from 1 mdg to 10 mgd.

The Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan propose to restore the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to as near its original capacity as possible.

  • Dredge the SFRR either incrementally or all at once
  • Enlarge the spillway at RMR to address dam safety
  • Repair or replace the pipeline from Sugar Hollow Reservoir
  • Upgrade the Observatory Water Treatment Plant.
  • Update drought contingency plans to include Beaver Creek, Chris Greene Lake and Lake Albemarle
  • Explore the sustainable harvest of the recently discovered groundwater reserves on the eastern flank of the Blue Ridge, and another running parallel to the Southwest Mountains.
*Note little or no mitigation is required if wetlands in the SFRR are left undisturbed as anticipated.

How much will it cost?

Current estimates for the RWSA Community Water Plan are in the range of $143 million ($280 M with financing).

The Alternative Plan is estimated to cost less than $70 million ($110 M with financing).

Compare various alternatives to the plan in this matrix of costs and impacts.

You might be interested in the following pages:

Timeline for the Development of the Water Supply Plan
A not-so-public process

Common Myths about the 50-year Water Supply Plan

Why the RWSA Demand Projections are Too High

Will the Rivanna River Still Flow?

Watch the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir Silt In

The Nature Conservancy's role in the Community Water Supply Plan

Small Bites: An Alternative Dredging Approach

How to Have 50 Years of Water of the Lowest Cost

Photo by Victoria Dye: November walk at Ragged Mountain Natural Area