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New water line would run through some poor neighborhoods in city

It will be about five miles long, between 24 and 30 inches wide, made of ductile iron and it will provide water to Charlottesville and Albemarle County urban area residents.

It will also run through some lower income areas of the city on its way to connect to the urban area’s water mains.

The Rivanna Water Sewer Authority is moving forward on its central water line project to provide water to the city and county urban areas and has recommended a route for the pipe from Observatory Hill to downtown.

The route would run through several neighborhoods, including Stadium, Piedmont, Price, Lewis, Jefferson Park Avenue, Cleveland, Cherry, Elliott, 6th Street, Avon, 10th Street, East Jefferson, 11th Street, East High Street and Roosevelt Brown.

The project will include pipes to transport drinking water from the soon-to-be expanded Observatory Water Treatment Plant, located near the University of Virginia’s Scott Stadium.

“If we expand the water treatment plant and we replace the water line to get it to the treatment plant, it has no benefit if we can’t really get that water out into the system,” said Bill Mawyer, executive director of the authority. “So this is going to be a larger pipe to help us get water into the urban drinking water system.”

The project was presented to City Council and the RWSA Board of Directors in January, and the board supported a general route going through Cherry Avenue. Since then, the project team reevaluated five specific primary pipe routes and alternate routes after holding public input sessions and listening to resident’s concerns.

A routing study was conducted by RWSA’s engineering consultant, Michael Baker International, in 2021 in coordination with the city’s Utilities and Traffic Departments and the Albemarle County Service Authority to evaluate multiple water line routing options and define an acceptable path across the center of the city.

In the end, the authority decided the Southern Cherry Avenue alignment option provides greatest overall benefits, including higher water system advantages, lowest impacts to traffic, lower estimated overall project cost of $41 million, among other factors.

“We looked at how this would impact neighborhoods, businesses, the UVa academic side and medical district and hospital area,” Mawyer said.

After the evaluation, authority officials found all routes present challenges.

“It’s not the estimated least expensive route. But we felt like with the conflicts to the business district and the medical district [in other proposed routes], a savings of $2 million was not a significant reason to choose those,” Mawyer said.

Mawyer said he would like for the work to occur in the summer to limit impact in the Buford Middle School area.

Councilor Michael Payne said he is concerned that the route runs through some lower-income neighborhoods, including public housing areas, as opposed to other routes that go through higher income areas.

“I raise my eyebrow that a project is being routed through the southern part of the city, particularly housing and low income communities,” Payne said. “I don’t have full confidence that’s being based entirely on objective criteria, and isn’t also being influenced unduly by some other subjective criteria.”

Payne asked if there is data to support the decision that disruption to one neighborhood is more damaging than the potential disruption of another.

“There is data, but we did have some subjective view of it,” Mawyer said.

Mawyer said that there would be less disruption in some public housing neighborhoods because the roads and routes are wider with more room to maneuver, as opposed to areas like Grady Avenue and Rugby Road.

“We looked at how this would impact neighborhoods, businesses, the UVa academic side and medical district and hospital area,” Mawyer said.

Councilor Brian Pinkston, one of the current city representatives on RWSA’s Board of Directors, voiced support for the proposed route.

“This is working as a network right like the capillaries in your body,” Pinkston said. “One of the extra benefits of doing it this way is that you get larger transmission lines on the southern side of the city.”

Mayor Lloyd Snook said that, while City Council has gotten a lot of feedback from the public to vote yes or no on the project, the city council doesn’t get to vote. Pinkston and Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers wield the only city votes as representatives on the authority’s board of directors.

“Our role is at this point to try to make sure that the RWSA Board is considering all of the factors and that they make their best choice given all those circumstances,” Snook said.

RWSA provides water and wastewater services wholesale to the Albemarle County Service Authority and Charlottesville. Area residents then pay the service authority and city directly for water and sewer charges. It’s currently unclear how this project will affect water rates.

The project is set to be complete in 2028. In late 2023 and early 2024, RWSA plans to complete the design and bid the project, awarding the construction project to a contractor in spring 2024.

The central water line project will interconnect the authority’s urban area drinking water system that supplies the city and urbanized areas of Albemarle County. The areas receive drinking water from three water treatment plants, South Rivanna, Observatory and North Rivanna.


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