RWSA update: Reauthorization, Central Water Line, capacity in northern Albemarle

The government entity responsible for providing drinking water and collecting and treating sewage will officially have to ask the state of Virginia for permission to continue existing.

“Authorities are authorized for 50 years and then they have to be reauthorized,” said Bill Mawyer, the executive director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority received its original authorization in June 1972, marking the 50th anniversary of the decision to create an authority to provide basic essentials for a growing urban community. 

“So a part of our celebration will be submitting resolutions to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and City Council to reauthorize the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority,” Mawyer said.

The RWSA owns and operates facilities that serve the urban ring around Charlottesville as well as Scottsville and Crozet. Mawyer said the Beaver Creek Reservoir has recently been treated to bring down levels of algae. 

“It is the earliest we’ve seen that we’ve had an algae bloom at any of our reservoirs since our current staff have been around,” Mawyer said. “In the long term, we plan to have a hypolimnetic oxygenation system which is a pipe that goes along the bottom of the reservoir that bubbles air into the water and helps to oxygenate it to minimize the conditions that are conducive to algae blooms.”

That pipe will be installed as part of the upgrade of the Beaver Creek Dam scheduled to take place next year. 

Another major capital project is a proposed waterline to connect drinking water from the Observatory Water Treatment Plant to other portions of the urban water system in Albemarle’s growth areas.

Some have expressed concern about the route preferred by staff. RWSA officials have been meeting with neighborhood groups to explain its purpose and to discuss its path through the Fry’s Spring neighborhood along Cherry Avenue, 6th Street NE, and East High Street before connecting to a waterline that serves Pantops. 

“So the plan is that we’re going to collect all the information and feedback from the neighborhoods, assess it, get any feedback that Council may provide us or the Board of Supervisors and assimilate all that data and come back to the RWSA Board at the June meeting for the final location of the waterline,” Mawyer said. 

The project has an estimated cost of $31 million and may be further informed by the completion of a master plan for water infrastructure. 

The proposed Central Water Line. For more on the project, take a look at the project website.

Planning for additional homes and businesses in northern Albemarle 

The RWSA Board of Directors were also briefed on whether there is enough capacity in Albemarle’s northern growth area to support additional homes such as at the University of Virginia’s North Fork Discovery park. There are also hundreds of homes coming online at Brookhill, RST Residences, North Fork, and other developments under construction. 

“What we’re looking at now is that these significant utility demands that are being proposed may force one of two options,” said Jennifer Whitaker, the RWSA’s chief engineer. “One is to accelerate the utility plan or require some phasing so that we don’t have an unmet need in the future.” 

According to a demand study from July 2020, current demand for the whole system is at 10.4 million gallons a day (MGD) and capacity can provide a safe yield of 12.8 MGD. 

“Every ten years we try to take a very strong look at what we know as a community about growth and development and use within our community and then we also take a look at what’s going on in our reservoirs,” Whitaker said. “We try to look at how the raw water supply and the finished supply match up.”

Review the whole presentation here.

Whitaker said there is enough water through 2060 as long as several parts of the Community Water Supply Plan are built by 2035. They are construction of a pipeline to connect the South Fork Rivanna and Ragged Mountain Reservoir and the raising of the pool at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. 

Northern Albemarle is served by the North Fork Rivanna Water Treatment Plant which Whitaker said can effectively treat one million gallons a day. There’s a demand of about a half million gallons a day. The RWSA is planning to decommission the plant but has to first connect that area to water from the South Fork Rivanna Water Treatment Plant.  

“Some of the growth demand at the North Fork Research Park and another northern Albemarle areas, the need has picked up and we’re now looking at that plan and trying to figure out how to sequence it to meet that need,” Whitaker said. 

Wastewater flows via gravity to the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and Whitaker said improvements to what’s known as the Powell Creek Interceptor are currently slated for some time between 2045 and 2065. 

“As we evaluate future growth in this area we’re looking at potentially having to accelerate that as well,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker said the RWSA is working with the University of Virginia Foundation and the county as a rezoning for the North Fork park makes its way through the approvals process. They’ve asked for a maximum potential of 1,400 homes there. UVA has announced that some of these units will count toward UVA President Jim Ryan’s goal to build up to 1,500 affordable housing units. 

“Ultimately we will be able to serve all of it but the question is how quickly will we allow them to bring that online,” Whitaker said. 

The other two locations for affordable housing are on Fontaine Avenue at the Piedmont housing site as well as Wertland Street. 

There was no action at the meeting, but certainly a lot to pay attention to into the future.

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the March 31, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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