RWSA to vote today on Central Water Line project

Today the Board of Directors for the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority will meet to select an alignment for a five mile pipeline that the organization says is necessary to help secure drinking water infrastructure. Last week, Charlottesville City Council got a briefing on the project. (view the presentation)

“So we call it the Central Water Line project because it was recommended to be located in the central portion of the city to provide the greatest water benefit to our regional water supply system,” said Bill Mawyer, the executive director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority. 

Mawyer said planning dates back to a drought in 2002 that led to a long discussion about how to expand the community water supply plan. That involved expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir by building a new earthen dam, as well as an upgrade of the Observatory Water Treatment plan. 

This Central Water Line is to transfer water to a location in Pantops. 

“We realized later, it was not part of the original Community Water Supply plan, that we needed to have a large pipe coming away from the Observatory Treatment Plant so that we can distribute that water to all parts of the city and the county, the urban water area as we call it,” Mawyer said.

The current cost share is a 52 to 48 percent split with the Albemarle County Service Authority picking up the larger share. Various versions of this pipeline have been considered in the past to increase capacity, and a report released last year called the Urban Finished Water Master Plan recommended this central pipe through the city. 

“If we expand the water treatment plant and we replace the raw waterline to get it to the treatment plant, it has no benefit if we can’t put that water out into the system,” Mawyer said. 

Mawyer said the work would be done in segments of several hundred feet at a time with most of the work underneath city streets. 

“We expect the schedule to be from 2024 through 2028,” Mawyer said. 

Mawyer said the RWSA has presented to six neighborhood associations along the route and mailed out information to every parcel on the way. He said that led to another visitation of the five alignments and other alternatives that had been examined. One of the alignments would have used the Route 250 bypass but that would have taken eight years. 

“Work on the bypass was going to be quite a challenge [and] that likely would have to be completed at night due to the impacts on traffic,” Mawyer said. 

A matrix of the various alignments

Other alignments included Preston Avenue, West Main, and along Harris Street and Fifth Street Extended. Mawyer said the latter got further attention during the neighborhood meeting phase. 

“Now, when we had our neighborhood meetings, they said, well what about going down Harris Street all the way to Fifth Street and come up Fifth Street ,” Mawyer said. “So we took a careful look at that and found that there were two disadvantages. One,  it was going to be about $8 million more expensive because it’s a much longer route.”

Mawyer also said Fifth Street carries heavy traffic including emergency vehicles. Another potential alternative was to go underneath Shamrock Road which would have been shorter and cheaper, but other problems were identified.  

“But Shamrock is such a narrow street, with no shoulder on one side, with on street parking, very congested, [and] you have the railroad track and the vertical curve,” Mawyer said. 

The Cherry Avenue alignment was deemed to have the least amount of traffic and to take the least amount of time to complete. 

“We think this southern Cherry Avenue [alignment] when all things are considered provides the greatest benefit and opportunity for us,” Mawyer said. “We recognize that there will be impacts along the way.” 

The RWSA’s chief engineer said she ran models on all of the various ways to connect the water line.

“The connectivity that we get from the… Central Water Line that ties in all of these mains and provides this main corridor that goes east-west through the city in a relatively straight line really did provide the greatest hydraulic benefits to the system under the most number of conditions,” said Jennifer Whitaker. 

Councilor Michael Payne acknowledged he is not an engineer but he said he had concerns about the preferred alternative along Cherry Avenue in part because he felt RWSA’s assessment of impact to neighborhoods had been subjective. 

“Is that really the best route in terms of objective criteria and how much that decision has been made via subjective criteria,” Payne said. 

Payne said the Northern route would be cheaper with a price tag of $28 million. That alternative would also require moving ahead with an $11 million upgrade of the Emmet Street water main that was not otherwise required until the 2030’s. 

“It raises my eyebrow that a project that at least on my understanding while adding some redundancy to the whole system is primarily benefiting the Pantops area is being routed through the southern part of the city, particularly public housing and low income communities,” Payne said. 

Councilor Brian Pinkston has been on the RWSA Board of Directors since January. He supported the Cherry route and said it would have benefits for the southern portion of the city. 

“One of the extra benefits of doing it this way is that you get larger transmission lines on the southern side of the city,” Pinkston said. “That’s not something that’s been brought up tonight but its an important reason why I think this is the most reasonable route.” 

Pinkston also noted that much of the opposition is based on an idea somehow this would all be done for the benefit of people in Albemarle’s growth area. 

“I don’t know why it’s a problem that we would to help people in the county, particularly when they’re paying 52 percent of it,” Pinkston said. 

Council did not take a vote on how to direct Pinkston and the city’s two other RWSA members. 

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 June 28, 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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