A general route for a new water line across Charlottesville to help move water more efficiently across the area has been established.
The project, called the Central Water Line Project, from the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority will add transmission pipes to help more efficiently convey drinking water from the Observatory Water Treatment Plant, located near the University of Virginia’s Scott Stadium, to the city and to portions of Albemarle County around the city.
Generally, the line goes from Stadium Road through neighborhoods to Jefferson Park Avenue, down Cleveland Avenue, up Cherry Avenue, down Elliott Avenue, up Sixth Street SE, under the Belmont Bridge, up to East High Street and to the RWSA Pantops water line.
On Tuesday, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors at its meeting endorsed the recommended route, and the authority will now continue with more detailed design and inform neighbors about the project.
Currently, the project is scheduled to be awarded to a contractor in spring 2024, with construction completed in spring 2029.
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.
Michelle Simpson, a Rivanna senior civil engineer, said the project is needed to improve flow pressure, add redundancy to help if there are issues in the water system and to effectively convey water from the Observatory water plant to the city and portions of the county.
The project changes part of an agreement made in 1987 called the Southern Loop Agreement, which outlined two phases of a project to expand RWSA’s water transmission and storage system. The first phase was built at the time of the agreement, and included a two-million gallon storage tank known as the Avon Street Tank, and a new transmission main to connect the tank and the Observatory Water Treatment Plant, according to a project webpage.
In 2018, a plan to connect the Avon tank with one on Pantops was paused to look at “a more comprehensive approach” before moving forward. Ultimately, it was determined that continuing the Southern Loop corridor route “had minimal impact on improving system hydraulics while also resulting in water age issue” and adding possible transmission pipes on Avon Street or Seminole/Emmet corridors “both improved system performance in other areas but did not provide a primary solution to the challenge of conveying water efficiently from [Observatory] to Pantops,” a routing study said.
The routing study was conducted by Michael Baker International and looked at different options on northern, middle, southern and railroad corridor routes, and a version of the southern route was chosen.
During public comment at the meeting, two city residents questioned why the decision had been made without public input.
“The big question is why has there been no outreach to the affected neighbors, and the public seems to be excluded from this decision,” Kimber Hawkey said. “So we’re asking that this be put forth to the public for discussion and to City Council.”
Dede Smith, a former city councilor who has long questioned the area’s water supply plan, said no community forums were held about this project and neighborhood associations were not contacted.
“This has been planned entirely behind closed doors, in a city that prides itself on community involvement,” she said. “And guess who lost in that conversation? The southern corridor runs through the highest concentration of black and brown neighborhoods in Charlottesville, in a city that prides itself on equity.”
Rivanna Executive Director Bill Mawyer said Rivanna has not had a lot of public outreach at this point, and this meeting today with the board is the first time it will have seen the recommended route. Rivanna has been working with city and service authority staff.
“But we’re not saying today is the end of the opportunity to talk to people about the route,” he said. “This is really a new beginning after we, the staff and our consultants, have been able to come up with what we will call a recommended route. But we’re willing to get out and talk to the neighborhood once we have input from our board and continue this discussion.”
Simpson said the southern concept takes advantage of some of the larger right-of-way-width streets in the city.
“It also provides better hydraulic conductivity to our system than any of the other options because in the southern parts we connect to the 12 inch existing water lines in Avon Street and Fifth Street … and it provides a stronger hydraulic conductivity to the south of the city, which connects to our southern loop water line and our Avon tank,” she said.
In the routing study, Simpson said constructability, impacts to traffic, parking and sidewalks, the neighborhood, railroad crossings, utility congestion, easement access, construction costs, opportunities to coordinate with other city projects and permitting were all considered.
The northern corridor concept went along Market Street, up Preston Avenue to Grady Avenue and down Emmet Street, which Simpson said had challenges of narrow and congested neighborhood streets, heavy traffic in the downtown area and minimum hydraulic connectivity to southern portions of the city.
The middle corridor concept went from Market Street, down Ridge/McIntire, down West Main Street and down Jefferson Park Avenue, which also had similar challenges noted.
The preliminary project cost estimate for the project is $31 million, and how the cost will be divided between the city and the service authority is still under discussion with an amendment to the Southern Loop Agreement.
Smith also questioned the cost increase, as the project has been previously shown in budget documents as $13 million. Simpson said the $13 million number that had been included in past documents was a placeholder amount and had been based on the original half of the southern loop agreement plans.