The War on Dredging

In 2002, City Council approved a plan to increase the public water supply by dredging the SFRR, raising the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir by four feet and promoting conservation. That plan was never implemented.

June 2003: RWSA Executive Director Larry Tropea resigns under a gag order

September 12, 2003, the RWSA Board awarded the Community Water Supply Plan Engineering Contract to implement the 2002 plan to Gannett Fleming and VHB. The final scope and contract were executed October 9, 2003.

December 1, 2003: A meeting was held between RWSA and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to discuss the analysis and the potential for agency cooperation on the model development. TNC representative, Brian Richter (Director of the Fresh Water Initiative) explained that TNC is interested in modeling the entire Rivanna River Watershed. TNC suggested that perhaps their work on a Watershed model could build upon the data generated by the RWSA efforts. TNC requested the use of the raw water model input data for their use and further study.

January 20, 2004: A pilot dredging program was estimated to cost $1.8 -2.8 million.
A long term program is estimated to cost $42 million. (Gannett Fleming)
In January, a new Demand Analysis was submitted by Gannett Fleming.

January 23, 2004: Work is suspended on the dredging pilot program AND the four foot crest after a preliminary report on a reevaluation of the Demand Analysis. The RWSA Board approves looking at other alternatives.  The RWSA Board authorized the RWSA staff to proceed with a reevaluation of alternatives.. Phase I – Reformulate Favorable Water Supply Alternatives is authorized at $188,000, while Phase II – Evaluate Favorable Water Supply Alternatives is authorized at $100,000. This work is titled Amendment 1 under the original contract.

April-May 2004: Blue Ridge Sand sends in a proposal to dredge the SFRR

May 24, 2004: Gannett Fleming identified 32 possible alternatives for a new water supply, then narrowed those alternatives using federal/state environmental impact criteria to the final four called a 'short list'" See July 2004

In September 2004, a public meeting was organized to review five alternatives to increase the water supply and to get public feedback:

  1. Pipeline from the James River provides water directly to treatment plants.
  2. Ragged Mountain expansion to include reactivation of the Mechums Pump Station and replacement of the existing pipeline to the Sugar Hollow Reservoir.
  3. South Fork Rivanna Reservoir expansion with four foot crests.
  4. South Fork Rivanna River Dredging Alternative
  5. Beaver Creek Reservoir as a supplement to the Urban System.

November 18, 2004, a public meeting was held to discuss the option to
DREDGE THE SOUTH FORK RIVANNA RESERVOIR. The cost of dredging the SFRR is now estimated at $145 million.
See technical memo on Dredging the SFRR

In December 2004, a public meeting was held to discuss the option of

In January 2005, a public meeting was held to discuss the

In January 2005, a public meeting was held to discuss

In February 2005, a public meeting was held to review all four options.

On March 3, 2005, a joint boards meeting with City Council, AC Board of Supervisors, and the boards of ACWSA and the RWSA, in which the four options as presented at the public meetings, were discussed. RWSA attorney Bill Ellis opines that the 2 options involving SFRR are unlikely to be approved by regulators.

MEMO from Tom Frederick
In early March 2005, the Authority’s legal counsel announced that the “four foot crest” was unlikely to be permitted by the federal government due to its environmental impacts. Counsel also announced that dredging could be considered “impracticable” due to its logistical uncertainties and potential costs when compared to the other alternatives. (see Alternatives Process, second paragraph)

March 7, 2005: SELC expresses concern about taking the 4-foot crest and dredging alternatives off the table. They express surprise at the legal opinion of Bill Ellis that these alternatives were unlikely to be approved because they spoke with DEQ after the meeting and DEQ said all alternatives were still viable. DEQ expressed surprise about what they read in the paper about the meeting.

March 21, 2005: RWSA sends a letter to DEQ opining that dredging the SFRR is "impracticable" due to its cost.

In March 2005, according to a recent memo, the RWSA decided to look at the feasibility of building a new pipeline from the SFRR to supply the Ragged Mountain Reservoir instead of via the Sugar Hollow Reservoir - in order to overcome local objections centered on the Moormans River. To address concerns that the South Fork water quality is inferior to Sugar Hollow water, the Authority thought it prudent to pre-treat water from the South Fork Reservoir (with a NEW treatment plant) to remove nutrients and sediment before transferring through the new pipeline to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. (see Ragged Mountain Focus)

In April 2005, in a private meeting between RWSA and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) the issue of building a pipeline between Ragged Mountain Reservoir and the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir was discussed. TNC agreed to contact several local organizations who had previously stated concerns about the Ragged Mountain alternative as a way of determining if by proposing the source of the new pipeline as South Fork, those earlier concerns would be remedied. (see Ragged Mountain Focus, second paragraph)

Despite these developments ....
On April 18, 2005, a public meeting was held with City Council, AC Board of Supervisors, ACSWA, RWSA, and 15 state and federal regulators. At this meeting, it was stated that the four options discussed in the public meetings throughout the previous year were still on the table as follows:

  1. Pipeline to the James River
  2. Raise the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir
  3. Dredge the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir
  4. Raise the Ragged Mt. Reservoir (by 13 feet and replace the Sugar Hollow pipeline.)

Top of page 4 in the Aug 18 minutes, "Mr. Gaffney reiterated that RWSA had not made a decision at this point on a preferred alternative and was still considering four “short-list” concepts as possibilities while seeking concurrence with CCC, AC BOS, and ACSA BOD." Building a pipeline between South Fork and Ragged Mountain was NOT one of the options.

June 2, 2005 and June 15, 2005: Use of dredged material for airport is topic in emails. Also references to unsolicited dredging bids.

June 6, 2005: Gaffney write an email mocking environmentalists buy-in to plan

June 27, 2005: City, County and RWSA representatives meet with state regulators in Richmond.

In October 2005, a public meeting was held to announce the NEW concept of building a pipeline between SFRR and the RMR. The plan also called to decommission the Sugar Hollow pipeline cutting off access to the water reserves in the Sugar Hollow Reservoir.

At the next public meeting...
In April 2006, at the next public meeting, the RWSA announced the selection of their "preferred alternative" - Raise the Ragged Mountain Reservoir and build a new pipeline between RMR and the SFRR.

In May-June 2006, The project was approved by City Council (see below), Board of Supervisors, Albemarle County Water Authority, and the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.

On June 5, 2006, City Council approved the project despite an appeal from a city resident that the council should not give away so many city resources including parkland without a public hearing.

In August 2007, the RWSA Board authorized its Executive Director, Tom Frederick, to negotiate and execute a new contract with Gannett Fleming, Inc. for design and bid services for the construction of the new Ragged Mountain Dam.

In September 2007, a public meeting was held to disclose the cost of the "preferred alternative" to be 143 million dollars, of which 127 million was needed for the new RMR dam, the SFRR pipeline and infrastructure required for that, and upgrading the Observatory treatment plant to handle increased volume.

On November 19, 2007, the first public hearing since the planning process began was granted by City Council as requested by the Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan. Tom Frederick's pre-meeting information packet to Council was a counter attack on CSWP's concerns, rather than information on the water supply plan. Read more about the meeting in the minutes.
Listen to a podcast of the public hearing (scroll down about midway)

Fall 2007: The group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan organizes. A group of city citizens concerned about the large financial cost and environmental damage to city resources, call for the preservation of the city's largest water reserve, the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. They claim that there has been insufficient information and debate concerning the plan. Their goal is to bring factual information to the public.

November 19, 2007: After much public pressure, City Council holds its first public hearing on the water supply plan. RWSA executive director, Tom Frederick announces a rise in the dredging estimate of more than 80 million to 225 million. However, he is not able to come up with documentation until March 3, 2008. In a memo to City Council, Tom Frederick notes that,

"..about one-third of the new water storage proposed at Ragged Mountain is to replace storage expected to be lost at South Fork in the next 50 years,.."
Also in that memo, Frederick writes:
" In early March the Authority’s legal counsel ..... announced that based on proven case law, dredging could be considered “impracticable” due to its logistical uncertainties and very high potential costs when compared to the other alternatives.."

November 20, 2007: O'Connell reacts to Council's request for more info on dredging. Says wait out Lynch.

February 13, 2008: Email from Frederick. Don't discuss dredging until permits are issued. (See May 18 letter from Ellis)

March 2008: More emails on stalling dredging.

February 28, 2008: The Hook comes out with the first of almost 50 articles exposing the inconsistencies and misinformation surrounding the approved water supply plan, kickstarting a public outcry against the plan.

March 3, 2008: Gannett Fleming releases a report updating the dredging estimate to $223 million, despite the fact that "No new investigations were completed."
This new estimate was first announced by Tom Frederick in November 19, 2007 during a public meeting.

March 11, 2008: Emails between RWSA Board members discourage a study of dredging as it will "open a can of worms." Tom Frederick confirms that a maintenance dredging study will cost as much as a full blown study.

April 28, 2008: Piedmont Chapter of the Sierra Club changes position on water supply plan. Asks for reconsideration of dredging.

We believe that prudence now dictates reconsideration of dredging of the Rivanna Reservoir as a key element in a longterm water supply plan. In our view, maintaining the current capacity and functionality of the Rivanna Reservoir is highly desirable, as is the preservation of the thousands of trees that would be lost in the current Ragged Mountain plan.

April 28, 2008: Local businessman Bill Crutchfield writes a letter to the Hook supporting dredging of the SFRR.

May 16, 2008: County Water Resources Manager Greg Harper writes a letter/report outlining the problems with the Demand Analysis, offering a lower future demand estimate and a strategy for moving forward with a greater emphais on water conservation and watershed protection.

May 17, 2008: RRBC minutes: RRBC Board member, Dr. D’Odorico asked Mr. Schuyler if the Commission is a public entity. Mr. Schuyler said yes. Dr. D’Odorico asked if the Commission then is subject to the rules of state government. Mr. Shuyler said yes.
RRBC subject to laws of FOIA (4 members on SFRR task force)

June 3 and 11, 2008: Resolutions by City Council and Albemarle Board of Supervisors in support of a study of dredging.

"NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that in addition to the specific elements of the community water supply plan approved by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, the City Council and the Board of Supervisors, the Board of Supervisors hereby requests the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority to undertake a study of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir ....."

June 23, 2008: RWSA votes to conduct a dredging study.

"Mr. Tucker moved that the Board of Directors vote to proceed with moving forward with implementing the study of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir as recommended by Mr. Frederick at today’s meeting, seconded by Mr. O’Connell. The motion was approved by a 5-0 vote. Vote by RWSA in support of a study of dredging." (page 12)

June 30, 2008: A special meeting of the "four chairs" is quickly called to form a task force to study dredging of the SFRR. The RFP, voted on by RWSA the week before will not be issued as agreed by a telephone "vote" of the RWSA Board. Violation of Freedom of Information laws?

July 8, 2008: Email from Sally Thomas to BOS, announcing her appointment to the task force as a representative of the League of Women Voters.

July 9, 2008: Sally Thomas appointed as chair before other task force members are identified. Email from Mike Gaffney to RWSA Board: ""Now that Sally has a place at the table, she will be the chair of the task force. Before I left for Guatemala, I checked with Dave, Ken and Don as well as Sally that we would announce this once she was appointed."

July 19-22, 2008: Task force members still being identified as seen in emails.

July 21, 2008: Sierra Club sends a letter to support "reconsideration of dredging as a key mechanism for providing water storage capacity."

July 22, 2008: Email from Tom Frederick reveals that "Following the June 30 meeting, I polled members of the RWSA Board and each of them agreed to respect the wishes of the four board chairmen."
(to rescind vote to send out RFP for dredge study)
Violation of Freedom of Information laws?

July 27, 2008: City partners with EPA's WaterSense conservation program designed to " delay the need to create more supplies, saving communities money and resources."

August 1, 2008: Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) write letter in support of a study of dredging

"In light of new information concerning the cost and feasibility of restoring the water capacity of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir through dredging, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) urges that a study of the feasibility and costs of dredging the reservoir be completed before any steps are taken to implement the existing long term water supply plan. '

August 12, 2008: Task force meets for the first time with a radically different outline of work than was discussed in the June 30 meeting. Discussion of the restoring the reservoir as a water storage impoundment is "off the table" Members of the task force, representing 11 organizations, are heavily weighted to those supporting the water supply plan. In addition there are four members of the Rivanna River Basin Commission (RRBC), a public body, which violates Freedom of Information laws (see ruling 5/8/09)

Ridge Schuyler, representative to The Nature Conservancy and member of the RRBC stated that he would like...looking at the sources of sediment and the strategies for not only capturing the sediment that enters the reservoir but also how to stop the sediment from entering the reservoir.
More than two members of a legal body (RRBC) doing the same public business as their legal body without notice is a violation of Freedom of Information laws.

August RRBC meeting: In agenda item, "Discuss the role of the TAC and RRBC in future of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and water conservation," Mr. Martin gave a summary of their first task force meeting. Ridge Shuyler, also a member of the Task Force, added that one of the things alot of the members mentioned at the meeting was the need to stop excessive sedimentation and that is vey much related to the work of the commission and TAC. Ms. Thomas, also a member of the Task Force, mentioned that the Task Force is supposed to prepare a report by the end of the year and will soon be taking a field trip." More than two members of a legal body doing public business without notice is a violation of Freedom of Information laws.

September 8, 2009: The SFRR Task force recognizes that it has the obligations of the Freedom of Information laws as follows:
"...they learned they would all be held to Virginia’s open government laws. Those laws determine how they advertise their meetings, prohibit gatherings of three or more members to discuss public business (without advertising that in advance as a public meeting) and require that their e-mail related to the work of the task force be subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests."

September 22, 2008: In a special news conference, RWSA announces that the price of the new Ragged Mountain dam alone has tripled in price. A stop work order is ordered until a review of the new estimate is done by another consultant.

September 26, 2008: Five city neighborhood associations cite fiscal considerations in their support of a study of dredging.

"It is hereby resolved that the City Council of Charlottesville, in order to insure that City taxpayers and water/sewer-rate payers are not subject to unnecessary water and sewer rate increases, tax increases, and to protect the integrity of the City-owned Ragged Mountain Natural Area, will prohibit any excavation, de-forestation, or road construction activities related to the proposed Ragged Mountain Dam; unless studies clearly demonstrate that construction of a new dam and pipeline is less expensive and less environmentally destructive than dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir as part of the Fifty Year Community Water Supply Plan."

October 2008: 315 members of the public responded to the public survey distributed by the task force. In response to the question, “What are your expectations or desires for the future of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir?”

Of the 251 responses: 85% wanted SFRR preserved, maintained, restored, or enlarged; 70% of those used the word dredge.
The SFRR task force largely ignored this survey, as reflected in one of the later versions of the final report,
The questionnaire was not a scientific or statistically valid survey, as noted in a statement contained at the top of the questionnaire. Accordingly, though the Task Force benefited from different perspectives, suggestions, and opinions expressed in the survey, it could not use the questionnaire to draw conclusions regarding public attitudes and expectations representative of the entire community.

October 23, 2008: In an RRBC meeting, John Martin reminded the group that 4 members of the task Force were in attendance at today's meeting (named them). Given that the Commission meeting was not noticed as a Task Force meeting, Mr. Martin stated that Task Force business should not be discussed.
Recognizes Freedom of Information laws here but not in task force meeting.

October 27, 2008: The majority opinion of those who came to the public hearing held by the task force supported a study of dredging.

Hundreds of members of the public signed a petition calling for a study of dredging that was delivered to City Council.

November 3, 2008: Resolution by City Council in support of a study of dredging in addition to technical reviews of the dam and pipeline.
Of significance they added that ...

"Council in adopting this Scope of Work on November 3, 2008 requested that construction work on the dam will not proceed until the other studies are complete."

November 13, 2008: Letter in support of a study of dredging from the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District.

"These Board members and members from other jurisdictions recommend that the feasibility of dredging the SFRR be re-considered, and if found feasible, that the restored capacity of the reservoir be factored into the long term water supply plan."

November 25, 2008: "Four Boards" meet to discuss City Council's resolution to conduct more studies before approving any more dam work. They agree to further studies including a study on the cost and feasibility of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, if the task force recommends dredging as a means of maintaining the reservoir.

January 12, 2009: In RRBC minutes, task force member John Martin reported that the SFRR task force draft report specifically mentions the work of the RRBC and the collaboration that the RRBC is fostering and urges further support for the RRBC.
Violation of Freedom of Information laws?

January 13, 2009: Task force meeting canceled when task force chair Sally Thomas sends out a "new report" written by John Martin that so disturbs the task force that the scheduled meeting is canceled. This is the report John Martin referred to at the Jan 12 RRBC meeting above.

January 26, 2009: Task force finalizes a report with changes. The vote is 9-2 in favor of the recommendations which include:

January 2009: Sierra Club asks that their statement be included in the to SFRR Stewardship Task Force Report. The request is voted down.

The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club recommends a study of the costs and feasibility of dredging the Rivanna Reservoir to restore its original water storage capacity be conducted. Possibly excessive estimates of the cost of dredging provided during development of the current water plan may have led to the mistaken rejection of dredging of the Rivanna Reservoir as the primary means of providing long term water supply.

February 16, 2009: Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan submit a minority report to the SFRR Stewardship Task Force Report.

February 23, 2009: RWSA meeting, "As stated last month, we remain “on hold” with respect to a dredging feasibility study and pipeline review study pending further direction... "

March 3, 2009: City Council and Board of Supervisors approve reopening the Request for Proposals for a dredging study.

May 8, 2009: The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council rules that the members of the RRBC who participated in the task force violated FOIA laws. Confirms violation of Freedom of Information Laws

May 15, 2009: ASCA does not oppose the dredging feasiblity study but will only pay for those parts mandated as RWSA obligations.

May 18, 2009: RWSA unanimously votes to seek proposals from qualified dredging consultants. In a compromise demanded by the County, the City will bear most of the cost.

May 18, 2009: RWSA counsel Bill Ellis writes a lettter saying a study of dredging, demand, etc may threaten the permit.

June 12, 2009: Gannett Fleming recommends 5 options on how to proceed after price skyrockets. One is to phase the construction of the dam and make up short fall with dredging.

June 25, 2009: RWSA fires dam consultant Gannett Fleming.

August 6 , 2009: RWSA chooses a new firm to conduct a dredging study of the SFRR.

October 28 , 2009: RWSA approves contract with HDR to study dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

June 15, 2010: Frederick writes summary of HDR studies skewing the results compared to a new dam. Dredging only gains 15% of dam. <




Frederick writes his own response to Dredging Study


Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District
Sierra Club - Piedmont Chapter
Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population
Five city neighborhood associations
William Crutchfield, Jr., a business perspective(pdf) (in Word)
William Crutchfield, Jr. calls for re-evaluation of the water supply plan
Preservation Piedmont

The Piedmont Chapter of the Sierra Club releases a new position

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

"The SFRR will not be abandoned as part of the plan.
According to the current plan, the SFRR will be allowed to silt in to 20% of its original capacity (1,250 MG down to 200 MG)

In fact, in Tom Frederick's own words, "..about one-third of the new water storage proposed at Ragged Mountain is to replace storage expected to be lost at South Fork in the next 50 years."
This figure doesn't even account for the storage capacity already lost! Half the total volume of useable water at Ragged Mt will equal that lost at SFRR.
Listen: Liz Palmer on leaving the problem of SFRR to those in 2055.

"Dredging alone does not supply enough water for the 50 year water plan."

Dredging alone CAN fulfill our 50-year needs if the decade-long decline in water use is factored into the projections. The projections used for the plan are now 25% too high. Restoring the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to 80% of its original capacity will yield enough capacity alone to satisfy a safe yield 25% below Gannett Fleming’s high estimates.

Restoring and preserving the resources WE ALREADY OWN combined with the emergency use of water sources already linked to the water treatment systems, such as Beaver Creek, Lake Albemarle, and Chris Greene as back up systems in the case of extreme drought would bring us above and beyond the even inflated safe yield numbers the current plan provides.

"Dredging was taken off the table because it didn’t supply the water that we needed".

Dredging was taken off the table due to the astronomically high cost estimate provided by the firm who ultimately won the contract to design the new dam.

At a meeting on June 27, 2005 state regulators concurred that RWSA would be allowed to eliminate dredging as an alternative due to its high cost, Communities are required to select the “least environmentally damaging, practicable alternative” when getting a new permit for water impoundment. Of the final four alternatives, dredging is the “least environmentally damaging” alternative, but because of the high cost estimates for dredging provided by Gannett Fleming, dredging was deemed not “practicable” and RWSA was allowed to drop it from the final selection. (see #7)

"A study of dredging will threaten our current permit."

DEQ and ACOE officials - the regulators who issued the permits - have both confirmed that new studies will NOT prompt any change in the current permit.
“We have always been willing to consider changes,” said DEQ rep Scott Kudlas at a meeting with city and county representatives.
(Read the legal opinion released by RWSA - WHICH IS NOT TRUE)

"State and federal regulators will not give us a permit to dredge."
In an April 18, 2005 meeting with 14 state and federal regulators, Joseph Hassell of the Department of Environmental Quality said that the DEQ had never opposed a reservoir maintenance dredging. At the same meeting Michael Schwinn of the Army Corps of Engineers told the group of local officials that unless the Rivanna silt were deposited in a wetland or waterway, his agency wouldn't require a permit to dredge the Reservoir.

"Dredging will create unbearable smell, noise, and truck traffic."

Listen: David Slutzky talking about the evils of dredging
The fact is hydraulic dredging is a safe and quiet means of restoring capacity in a reservoir and is used all over the country.

"Dredging will stir up toxic pollutants into our drinking water."

In a technical memorandum on dredging the SFRR, samples taken of the sediment in the SFRR indicated that it was approximately 50% sand and 50% clay/silt. It goes on to report that, "The chemical analyses indicate that the material sampled in this location is likely to be non-hazardous in nature and might be reused or disposed of as appropriate."

"Reservoir residents do not want to dredge."
In public comment and surveys during the SFRR task force, overwhelmingly the residents living around the reservoir wanted to see it dredged. Why wouldn't they!

"The current plan is the least environmentally damaging alternative"
Dredging is the least environmentally damaging solution.

DEQ requires that a water supply proposal is the "least environmentally damaging, practicable alternative. In order to be approved for a permit, "RWSA needed to show that dredging the SFRR was not "practicable." Gannett Fleming did this by raising the estimate for dredging from 40 million in 2003 to 145 million in 2004 and again to 225 million in 2007

In June 2005, state regulators relented and said this about dredging the SFRR:

“due to the potential costs of this project and the uncertainties in the possibilities for reducing these costs, the regulatory agencies would not require Rivanna to consider this concept further toward an application for the 9.9 MGD water supply increase.”

"Dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir (SFRR) has been thoroughly analyzed and is too expensive."

The one analysis done for the option to dredge the SFRR was conducted by a firm specializing in dam and pipeline building - the same firm who ultimately was awarded the contract to design the new dam and was recently fired. They estimated the cost of dredging at $40 million in 2003, raised it to $145 million in 2004 and again to $225 million in 2007 -- without any further study. Today, it is accepted that those estimates are greatly exaggerated.

Watch the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir Silt In

photo: The Rivanna River on September 27, 2007 by JF