The Fairfax County Water Authority recommended yesterday an end to water use restrictions that were imposed on the 616,000 Northern Virginians who get their water from the Occoquan Reservoir.
The authority concluded that even a repetition of the worst winter daught ever recorded here - in 1930-31 - would still leave enough water to supply the region until next March.
Heavy rain this week and last is expected by today to increase the amount of water in the Occoquan Reservoir to 3.8 billion gallons, nearly twice the record low volume of about 1.95 billion gallons in late October. Moreoever, the ground in the water shed draining into the reservoir is now so soaked that any additional rain would result in continued improvement in the reservoir's reserve supply.
Nonetheless, the proposed ending of mandatory controls on outdoor use, which began in Fairfax County and Alexandria on Sept. 17 and in Prince William County on Oct. 1, was greeted with skepticism by top elected officials in the three jurisdictions. Each said no action would be taken before next week.
John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said. "I don't have all the facts yet. The major problem we had stemmed from the weather last January to March. That ismy major concern - whether we have a repeat performance."
Alice E. Humphries, Prince William Board of Supervisors chairman, said removal of the restrictions, including voluntary ones begun in early August, "may be premature. But if the desire is to take them off, I won't oppose it," she said."
Alexandria Mayor Frank E. Mann said, "I have a concern that we might be precipitous. Previously when we anticipated a problem and begged people to save water they didn't believe us.
"I don't mind lifting restrictions, but I think it's absolutely imperative that we begin to save water," Mann said. "We've got to create a climate where people appreciate this. I'm very hopeful that officials will try very hard to make everybody conserve.
"But I predict that usage will zoom back up and that's too bad," Mann said.
All three officials, however, agreed that an end to the restrictions on Tuesday - is likely - after the Fairfax Board meets Monday and the other two jurisdictions on Tuesday. "We have verbal agreement that we will take them off at the same time and we will probably do it on Tuesday," Humphries said.
Jim Warfield, spokesman for the independent water authority, said the recommendation to the political bodies empowered to control water use was made as the Occoquan, located on the Fairfax-Prince William border, continued to rise from its record low level of 94 feet 8 inches in late October.
Rain this week and last had pushed the level up to 103 feet 6 inches by 3 a.m. yesterday and Warfield estimated it would reach 105 feet today.
The National Weather Service is predicting the possibility of showers through Tuesday which could add to or at least maintain the level in the Occoquan. So far this month, about three-quarters of an inch of rain has been recorded at National Airport with up to an inch falling in the Occoquan water-shed.
The Weather Service has predicted rainfall below the normal 2.55 inches this month, but the recent rains have sent Bull Run and other streams out of their banks and pushed the Potomac River back to a normal flow rate of 2.5 billion gallons per day.
Warfield said the water authority had been taking an average of about 38 million gallons per day out of the Occoquan during October and was buying about 13.4 million gallons a day from Falls Church and 1.3 million from Arlington County and getting a million more gallons from wells. That with water from other sources, meant the authority's customers used an average of 56.6 million gallons a day in October, he said.
Warfield said that this was a reduction of about 11 percent compared to last year, after taking population growth into account. "The bulk of that (water saving) is from voluntary conservation inside the house," he said. "The mandatory restrictions have had some effect but it is marginal.
"We don't see a big increase in use even if these restrictions are lifted," Warfield said.
The mandatory restrictions - on car washing, street washing, outdoor watering, use of water-cooled air conditioners, filling of swimming pools and serving water in restaurants - "basically attack summer usage," he said.
Warfield said this year's drought began when last winter's extreme cold froze the ground and adversely affected ground water levels, but it was aggravated by low rainfall last summer. Still, the drought experiences has given the authority a major new tool, he said.
The Weather Service and the U.S. Geological Survey have developed a computer model of the Occoquan watershed that proved to be accurate in predicting the volume of water that resulted from the recent rain, Warfield said.
The model, shows that with the 1.5 billion gallons of water available for purchase from Manassas, "we have enough water to get to March 1 under the worst drought conditions on record - 1930-31," Warfield said.