Fairfax Challenges Falls Church's Cries of Foul Over Water Sales

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The city of Falls Church enjoys no exclusive right to sell its water in certain parts of Fairfax County, attorneys for the county's water utility told a federal judge yesterday.

Attorneys for the Fairfax County Water Authority asked for dismissal of a lawsuit filed last month in U.S. District Court in Alexandria by Falls Church charging that the utility was improperly offering service to new customers in areas traditionally served by the city.

Although Falls Church has about 11,000 residents, its water system serves more than 34,000 businesses and homes, most of them in the surrounding county. The city expects to generate about $2.4 million from water sales in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Until recently, city officials said, the county had honored a long-expired agreement delineating service area boundaries. The city's area includes portions of Tysons Corner and Dunn Loring, which are undergoing major development or revitalization. In January, the city alleges, water authority representatives contacted Trammell Crow, the developer of a major commercial and residential project underway near the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station, to offer service.

The city, which gets its water through the Washington Aqueduct from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, sued in federal court asserting that the county water authority is interfering with acts of Congress that created its system of water distribution in the 1940s.

Attorneys for the water authority, which serves about 1.3 million customers in Northern Virginia, argued that none of the laws cited by Falls Church grant the city an exclusive water franchise. "You have to be able to point to something that says Congress intended for the city to have an exclusive service area," said Stuart A. Raphael, attorney for the utility.

Falls Church City Attorney Roy B. Thorpe Jr. did not return a telephone message.

County officials said they want to be able to sell what they consider to be a better product at a more reasonable price. The county charges $1.50 for each 1,000 gallons, compared with the $3.03 price established by Falls Church. The city, however, provides other kinds of connections and service more cheaply than the county.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for March 30 before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III.

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