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Loudoun board faced with decision on Raspberry Falls

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After years of debate over water quality concerns in a community north of Leesburg, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors must decide on a solution in the coming months.

At a meeting last week, the Loudoun Water Board of Directors voted to present two long-term options to supervisors and asked that county leaders decide by May how to proceed.

The possible solutions are the result of months-long studies released by Loudoun Water in August and presented to supervisors last month. The studies examined two potential solutions for Raspberry Falls, including a long-term water treatment option and the possibility of installing a water pipeline extension from Leesburg north to the subdivision.

Raspberry Falls residents have complained about water quality for years. Because the subdivision is in a limestone geology area, its wells are surrounded by rocky terrain that does not filter contaminants from surface water as effectively as sand or soil does. Bacteria and other contaminants can more easily make their way into the untreated groundwater through cracks and channels in the limestone.

Anecdotal accounts of illnesses among residents, including gastrointestinal problems and skin rashes, led a number of families in Raspberry Falls to conclude that contaminated water was to blame. But David Goodfriend of the Virginia Department of Health reported to county officials that there were no conclusive cases in which residents were sickened by the subdivision’s water supply.

The community’s complaints escalated after the Health Department determined last November that tainted surface water was draining into one of the two wells that provided water to Raspberry Falls. The well was disconnected, and the Department of Health determination prompted the Loudoun Water board to vote to study long-term water treatment options. A replacement well was completed in July.

In response to a request by county supervisors in January, Loudoun Water also agreed to study the possibility of extending a central pipeline from Leesburg to Raspberry Falls.

Residents can learn more about the studies at two community meetings to be hosted by Loudoun Water on Dec. 7 and 8. The sessions were scheduled in response to the supervisors’ emphatic request last month that Loudoun Water increase its communication with affected residents.

After studying options for water treatment and a pipeline extension, Loudoun Water identified one recommendation for each of the two possible solutions.

Of the possible treatment options, Loudoun Water determined that membrane filtration — which provides a barrier to contaminants — would be the best choice. Installation of the filtration system would cost about $4 million, the study showed, and would add $67,000 a year to the system’s current annual operating costs of $50,000. After approval by the county board, the system would take about two years to install, Loudoun Water said.

The other choice — the water pipeline extension from Leesburg — is favored by many Raspberry Falls residents who have expressed concern over the effectiveness of treatment options.

The pipeline is the more expensive choice: It would cost about $7.6 million, and the estimated 21 / 2-year timeline excludes the potentially complicated legislative process that would precede construction.

Because Raspberry Falls is in a rural zoning area, the extension of a pipeline from Leesburg would require that supervisors first vote to rezone the community in the county’s general plan. Leesburg would also have to agree to accept ownership and operational costs of the Raspberry Falls water system.

If Leesburg and county officials do not decide by May whether to pursue a pipeline extension, Loudoun Water said, it would install a membrane filtration system, which would not require legislative action.

The community meetings will be from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Dec. 7 and 8 in the cafeteria of Tuscarora High School, Leesburg. The two sessions will have the same information, Loudoun Water said. Residents can provide additional input on the studies until the end of the year.

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