Supervisors review Loudoun Water study results
By Caitlin Gibson,
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors on Monday reviewed the results of an eight-month study of options to address water-quality problems in Raspberry Falls, and urged Loudoun Water to increase its communication with residents of the affected community.
After years of complaints about water-quality issues in Raspberry Falls, a subdivision just north of Leesburg, the board of Loudoun Water voted to study long-term water treatment options after the Virginia Department of Health determined in November that surface water was leaching into one of the two wells that provide water to the community. The well was disconnected, and construction of a replacement well was completed in July.
Loudoun Water also agreed to study the possibility of extending a central pipeline from Leesburg to Raspberry Falls after the county board requested in January that the option be examined. After studying various options for water treatment and building a pipeline extension from Leesburg, Loudoun Water offered a recommendation for each of the two possible solutions at a public hearing Monday.
Of the available treatment options, Loudoun Water suggested that the county consider membrane filtration, which provides a physical barrier to contaminants and has proven successful in other cases of surface water contaminating groundwater. Installation of the membrane filtration system would cost about $4 million, according to the study results, and would add $67,000 a year to the system’s annual operating costs of $50,000. Installation would take about two years after the county and Loudoun Water boards approved the plan, company officials said.
Loudoun Water, along with environmental engineering and science firm Hazen and Sawyer, also examined four possible options for constructing a water pipeline extension from Leesburg to Raspberry Falls, the option favored by many Raspberry Falls residents who have expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of additional treatment measures.
Of the four possible routes, Loudoun Water recommended one that would involve the shortest distance of pipe, from the town’s main zone — near Tuscarora High School — to Raspberry Falls. The route also involved the shortest implementation time and the least cost, but Loudoun Water and county leaders noted that the process could be fraught with unforeseen complications and delays. The project would cost about $7.6 million, and the Town of Leesburg would assume an additional $418,000 in annual operating costs, according to the study.
Dale Hammes, general manager of Loudoun Water, told supervisors that both of the two recommended options “are technically viable.”
County supervisors quickly focused on the potential delays associated with the pipeline construction options. Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) noted that the roughly 2.5-year timeline for the pipeline project excluded the potentially lengthy legislative process that would be required before the project could begin, including a zoning revision to the county’s General Plan.
Supervisor Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg) asked about the process of acquiring the necessary land easements, which could be difficult if the pipeline were to encroach on protected wetlands or other environmentally sensitive areas.
“That would wind up making it an even longer process,” she said.
Supervisors also stressed the importance of keeping Raspberry Falls residents informed throughout the decision-making process. Supervisor Sarah R. “Sally” Kurtz (D-Catoctin) asked Loudoun Water when it planned to hold a meeting with community members.
“I think it would be helpful for the folks who are affected by this,” she said.
Loudoun Water officials noted that a meeting would not be scheduled until after the company’s presentation of the study results before the Leesburg Town Council next week.
York seconded Kurtz’s suggestion, stressing the importance of including the residents in the discussion despite the legal “sensitivity” of the issue. Raspberry Falls residents have filed two lawsuits against Loudoun Water; the first was dismissed last year, and Loudoun Water was dropped from the second suit in August.
Still, York said, residents “are affected by this, whether we do something or we do not, and we need to meet with them.”
York suggested that a meeting be held at Raspberry Falls, to make it as convenient as possible for residents to attend.
“I can’t stress enough: Please put together a meeting with the citizens,” he said.
Although Raspberry Falls residents have been notably outspoken at public input sessions in the past, only a handful were present Monday — a fact that Raspberry Falls resident Holly Krauss pointed out, claiming that community members had not been informed by Loudoun Water that the meeting had been moved from its original date of Sept. 19.
Raspberry Falls resident Russell Koste also noted that the community had submitted questions to Loudoun Water about the study, but had yet to receive answers.
“We have not received responses, and the due date has not been given to us,” he said, adding that the community had sent “a few” questions to Loudoun Water after the study was released, followed by “many more” questions Monday afternoon.
Michael McGill, spokesman for Loudoun Water, said the public presentation was rescheduled from Sept. 19 after the company was told by county staff members that Raspberry Falls residents had asked for a new date due to a conflict with a back-to-school night. The change was posted on Loudoun Water’s Web site, he said.
McGill also said Loudoun Water plans to gather all questions and comments from residents and community members and present answers at a future time, which has not been specified.