Spurred by the drought, water experts from throughout Virginia met with Loudoun County supervisors Tuesday night and drafted a list of questions about the state of the county's water resources, the answers to which could influence the county's future growth.
At the end of the session, which included comments from the public, members of the board's Land-Use Committee voted 3 to 0 to establish the panel of 15 assembled hydrologists, geologists and public water officials as an ad hoc committee.
In voting for the committee, Supervisors Scott K. York (R-Sterling), Eleanore C. Towe (D-Blue Ridge) and Helen A. Marcum (R-Catoctin) said they wanted a better sense of how much water is available, where it is located and its condition, so that they can make decisions about what changes, if any, are needed in land-use laws.
"We've got a nightmare just on . . . schools, how we're going to provide water and sewer on those alone, let alone new development," York said. "So there is much excitement in the air in going forward on this study."
The ad hoc committee's first task will be to draft a report with basic data such as the location, amount and quality of the county's water sources and an analysis of how things could change because of growth or contamination. The committee also will try to determine what can be done to monitor the county's water sources and, if needed, suggest adjustments to current policies and ordinances.
In the summer, Loudoun was the first county in the Washington area to implement mandatory water restrictions, including limitations on washing cars, watering lawns and serving water in restaurants. The restrictions applied to the Loudoun County Water Authority's 30,000 customers in eastern Loudoun.
Many private wells, particularly in western Loudoun, went dry during the drought. The water shortage prompted supervisors to take a closer look.
York asked for the draft report to be completed this year, while the current board is still in office, recognizing that the new board that will be sworn in in January could decide that compiling information on the county's water supply is not a priority and thus not fund it.
"I think we have the political will to move forward," Towe said. "I pray that the next board will understand the importance of this."
The ad hoc panel comprises a half-dozen active or retired geologists and hydrogeologists with the U.S. Geological Survey, geological consultants and academicians, and a water contamination expert with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
J. Winston Porter, a Leesburg environmental consultant and a former official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will head the group. Marian A. Czarnecki, vice chairman of the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District, will be its vice chairman.
Many of the panel members live in western Loudoun and have firsthand experience with what they referred to as "some of the thorniest" geology--deep fractures in the granite that underlies that part of Loudoun and holds the ground water that supplies the area's wells.
Panel members said it will be hard to determine precisely how much water is in the fractures or whether it has been contaminated by agricultural, industrial or septic field runoff--and that without such basic information, advising Loudoun on how to move forward will be difficult.
"The question is how much growth can Loudoun County take without affecting water quantity or quality," said Bruce K. Gilbert, a retired mechanical engineer and hydrologist with the USGS who lives in Middleburg.
Speakers from the audience of about 60 people said they would like to have information about the safety and availability of water.
"Quality is a serious issue, and I urge you not to overlook that," said Margaret Sterrett, a resident of western Loudoun who said she discovered a year ago that her well was contaminated with an industrial scouring compound and de-greaser.
Peggy Maio, Loudoun's representative on the Piedmont Environmental Council, said the need for a countywide water resources databank was addressed 10 years ago in the county's general plan. "It's time now to do something," she said.