Securing a City's Future Water Supply: Building a Reservoir in Charlottesville, Virginia

19 Pages Posted: 30 May 2017

See all articles by Peter Marcel Debaere

Peter Marcel Debaere

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Brian Richter

The Nature Conservancy

Date Written: June 3, 2015


The case is about a city's water security and draws on the intense debate about the construction of a reservoir in a college town in Virginia in the wake of a record drought. The case highlights the role of public utilities in water provision, illustrates the different positions of various stakeholders, and raises the question of what the appropriate price for water is. It provides stylized facts of water use across sectors and rests on a basic analysis of present and future water demand as well as on an assessment of future water supply.This case is used in Darden's elective, “The Global Economics of Water.” It would also work well in courses dealing with the environmental impacts of urban planning.



Rev. Jun. 3, 2015

Securing a City's Future Water Supply:

Building a Reservoir in Charlottesville, Virginia

The golden age of dam construction had been between 1950 and 1980 in the United States, when about 60% of its roughly 80,000 dams were built. Since the peak in the 1960s, dam construction had been gradually decreasing. The average age of a U.S. dam was 52 years old, and the average overall condition according to the 2013 Report Card by the American Society of Civil Engineers was rated a D (poor), which compared unfavorably to the D+ grade the engineers gave the country's overall infrastructure. More than 500 dams had been removed since the 1990s. The growing costs of infrastructure works and increasing environmental concerns had lessened the public's appetite for constructing more dams. There was visible shift in emphasis from attempting to increase the water supply to conservation and more efficient allocation of water.

But in Charlottesville, Virginia, dam construction was not a thing of the past. A new earthen dam was being built at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. The dam was part of a 50-year plan to secure the city's future water supply. The new dam had to replace much older ones whose spillways had been found to have inadequate capacity on multiple occasions. The construction followed a lively, sometimes bruising public debate. While it would take time to tell whether supporters or opponents had the more accurate vision of the future, the controversy only gradually receded. Moreover, some, such as the local weekly paper the Hook, would keep maintaining that the public debate, in part, missed the point because not enough time was spent on the issue of environmental flows.

. . .

Keywords: water, sustainability

Suggested Citation

Debaere, Peter Marcel and Richter, Brian, Securing a City's Future Water Supply: Building a Reservoir in Charlottesville, Virginia (June 3, 2015). Darden Case No. UVA-GEM-0115, Available at SSRN:

Peter Marcel Debaere (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States


Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

United Kingdom

Brian Richter

The Nature Conservancy ( email )

Arlington, VA 22203-1637
United States

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