Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Charlottesville Water Debate: The Demand Study Arrives

Sugar Hollow Reservoir

Water continues to be 2010's most important story in central Virginia.  The Daily Progress/Charlottesville Tomorrow has an article today (here) reporting that the much-anticipated revised demand study is complete, and it is already generating controversy. 

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The study was prepared by a firm called Swartz Engineering Economics. I've just looked up Swartz; they are located in Stuart, Virginia and were founded in 1996 by Stephen Swartz, who has 43 years experience in engineering.  Their website says they've consulted for local governments in 26 states regarding water-utility issues.

So, the big news is that Swartz's study came up with a water demand projection, as of 2060, of 18.45 million gallons a day for the jurisdictions served by RWSA.  This is very close to the much-critiqued Gannett Fleming study from several years ago which projected 18.7 million gallons a day.  In other words, Swartz concludes that conservation measures have not significantly changed what the area can expect in terms of water demand over the next 50 years.

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The new study gives major ammunition to those in favor of the 2006 RSWA proposal (which I do not support: I want small-scale change, and I consider the massive new dam to be this year's analog to the 2009 re-bricking of the Downtown Mall - an unnecessary use of funds with potential adverse environmental impacts), which itself was based on Gannett Fleming's analysis. 

According to the DP/CT, opponents of the 2006 proposal are pre-emptively arguing that Swartz's work is flawed because it does not sufficiently account for changes in conservation.  Most tellingly in terms of where the debate will head in the next couple of months, Dave Norris does not seem prepared to accept Swartz's conclusions:

“I personally am reserving judgment until I have heard from Mr. Swartz,” Norris said in an interview. “If he is not able to demonstrate how his report adequately incorporated … conservation and efficiency, that would give me pause with regard to proceeding with a massive new dam that we may not need.”
 
Meanwhile, Ann Mallek is quoted as saying she believes the Swartz study is reliable.  This is going to be extremely interesting: it looks like opponents of the dam will be put in the (uncomfortable) position of arguing that a major engineering study -- previously viewed as critical in evaluating the alternatives -- is fundamentally flawed and should therefore be disregarded.

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