At invocation for this spring's annual Stafford County Salute to Business, Supervisor Alvin Y. Bandy thanked God for, among other things, water.

As the region copes with the effects of a months-long drought, Bandy's offer of thanks is appropriate. Stafford, unlike many of its neighbors, has a generous water supply.

"Unless we have a 200-year drought," said Bob Boss, county director of utilities, "we'll be fine."

Last week, Loudoun County instituted mandatory water restrictions. Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County also have imposed voluntary restrictions on water usage.

Officials in Stafford, meanwhile, say they won't have to impose any restrictions for at least a month--and only if the drought continues unabated.

But the drought has had an effect. Stafford stopped selling water to Fredericksburg earlier this month in an effort to conserve its own supply, a fact that underscores its strong regional position. Fredericksburg usually passes along some of the water it buys from Stafford to Spotsylvania. Cutting off that supply has hurt both jurisdictions. (Stafford will resume selling its water when reservoir levels rise, officials said.)

But it wasn't always that way.

"We were on the bottom rung at one time," said Bandy (R-George Washington). "In the early '70s, we couldn't even treat a gallon of water to drink."

So the Stafford Board of Supervisors, county administrators, state politicians and even U.S. congressmen got to work to bring drinkable water to Stafford.

"We literally begged for every grant we could possibly get," Bandy recalled. "The EPA . . . Army Corps of Engineers . . . you name it. I'm telling you, it was something like climbing Mount Everest with shorts and tennis shoes."

The massive effort paid off in the form of Stafford's two reservoirs and water treatment plants--at Smith Lake in north Stafford and Able Lake in the southern part of the county. The two facilities produce 13.5 million gallons of water a day, 3.5 million gallons more than the county uses. Stafford also is in the permit stage for a third reservoir, at Rocky Pin Run, that is planned to come on line in five to 10 years.

"The present water will be adequate until 2010," Boss said, adding that the Rocky Pin Run facility will be necessary to serve the heavy influx of new businesses and residents that the county expects over the next decade. Officials estimate that together the three facilities will serve the county until about 2070.

Thus, Stafford has positioned itself to have a plentiful water supply for the future, a fact that officials say distinguishes the county in terms of providing for current businesses and residents and in attracting new companies.

"The board had the foresight to do this some time back, and it's paying very strong dividends now," said Gene Bailey, director of economic development.

An abundant water supply is one of the essential components to attracting new business, Bailey said, and Stafford's strong position will catch the eye of companies.

"The further we go into this drought," Bailey said, "the better the county will look in terms of the type of long-range planning you need to accommodate new industry."

Companies will view Stafford as "head and shoulders above other communities," Bailey said.

For those who can remember what it was like before Stafford could serve a single resident, much less a large corporation, the current situation is a gratifying end to years of hard work.

"I'm just thankful where we are," Bandy said. "There are so many people to thank, so many people had a part in putting it together.

"If I had something really to be thankful for," Bandy continued, "it's the water in the county."