Region's Water Supplies as Varied as Sources

Land that usually would be under water has turned into a parched shoreline at Leesburg's Beaverdam Reservoir, which rose only a bit after recent rain.
Land that usually would be under water has turned into a parched shoreline at Leesburg's Beaverdam Reservoir, which rose only a bit after recent rain. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 8, 2007

Signs went up along Fairfax City streets last month announcing water restrictions. Manassas declared a water shortage. Loudoun County approved $500 fines for excessive water use for certain customers. But Fairfax and Arlington counties have not taken such steps.

Across Northern Virginia and the Washington region, water supplies vary significantly after an unusually dry summer and a burst of October rain. Some utilities are taking conservation measures in response to low reservoir levels. Others that depend primarily on the Potomac River report adequate supplies.

" 'Drought' is not a word we're talking about these days," said Jeanne Bailey, spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Water Authority, which serves nearly 1.5 million people in Alexandria and in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties.

Bailey said the water authority's Occoquan Reservoir on the Prince William-Fairfax county line rose seven feet after the October rainfall. The authority draws its water primarily from the Potomac.

Likewise, Arlington draws on the Potomac through the Washington Aqueduct, run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Potomac watershed benefited from October rain that measured 6.55 inches at Reagan National Airport, twice the norm for the month.

The October rain "cut down the deficit," meteorologist Luis Rosa of the National Weather Service said. It "turned out to be a really wet month."

Still, officials remain cautious about the supply in Fairfax City, Manassas and eastern Loudoun County, which depend more on reservoirs.

Fairfax City owns and operates its water supply system, with two reservoirs and a treatment plant in Loudoun. The system is linked to neighboring water systems, so the city should have a sufficient daily supply to meet demand, officials said.

City Manager Bob Sisson said the October rainfall helped Fairfax use its own resources instead of buying from elsewhere. "But we're going week to week," Sisson said.

The city's water restrictions will remain in effect until reservoirs are restored or rainfall patterns return to normal, he said.

To ensure that water supply remains adequate, Fairfax County has asked residents to refrain from watering lawns and shrubs, washing vehicles (except commercial car washes that recycle their water), using water-demanding amenities such as ornamental ponds and pools, and wasting water through misuse or plumbing leaks. Fairfax City officials have said they might consider additional measures to reduce demand.

Manassas officials issued a drought warning Oct. 22. The declaration, prompted by reduced levels at Lake Manassas, included various prohibitions, including one on watering. City customers can't water shrubbery, trees, lawns, grass or vegetation unless they use containers that hold three gallons or less.

The Loudoun County Sanitation Authority, which serves a large swath of eastern Loudoun, has had mandatory water restrictions since early last month. Samantha Villegas, communication manager for the authority, said the Beaverdam Reservoir rose only a bit after the October rain. The Loudoun authority gets two-thirds of its supply from the Fairfax County authority and the rest from Goose Creek.

Villegas said the rain "bought the county two weeks." Before the rain, the creek flowed at about 1 million gallons a day. By late last month, it was flowing at 15 million gallons. "That's helpful," she said.

Other jurisdictions in Virginia also have felt a water pinch, including Leesburg, Stafford County, Virginia Beach, Caroline County, Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

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