From her seventh floor balcony at the high-rise Heron House, Martha Pennino looks out over Lake Anne. Under normal conditions the lake conceals all but one rung on each of two ladders hanging off wooden boat docks on the other side of the lake. But, recently, she noticed three rungs above water level.
Officials at Reston Association, which owns the lake, say that Lake Anne is about one foot lower than normal. This may not seem to be a serious problem, but if the water level slips too low, about 1,000 residents surrounding the lake will be without air conditioning.
Unlike most homes, those in seven clusters surrounding Lake Anne don’t have individual air conditioning units. Lake Anne homes are linked to four water chillers, which distribute mass cooling throughout the neighborhoods. The chillers need large amounts of water to function correctly, and funnel water from Lake Anne to do so. Until recently, the chillers have not been operating at full capacity. But Pennino said she didn’t notice a change in her air conditioning until an apartment manager told her the water levels were being raised, and to expect an increase in cooling power.
"I went down and picked up my mail and I was told by the manager that the air conditioning would be stronger as soon as they get more water," Pennino said. "I hadn’t noticed a change, but now it is much cooler, so I guess they fixed it."
In order to stabilize water levels in the lake, Reston Association sent a letter to the nearby Hidden Creek Golf Course, asking that the course stop siphoning water from the lake. Throughout Reston’s history, the golf course has used Lake Anne water for irrigation. This is usually not a problem. But, under the current drought conditions, the lake water has become more precious.
"It’s a catch 22," said Larry Butler, Reston Association’s parks and recreation director. "As the drought situation limits the input into the lake from streams, the same thing is happening at the golf course, and they need more water for irrigation."
IN ADDITION to hindering the air conditioning system, the low water level hurts the ecological health of the lake and diminishes the aesthetic value, Butler said.
"With the water down a foot, you get the muddy lake bed all along the perimeter of the lake," Butler said. "And sometimes organic material is exposed, like leaves, and when it decays it can put off an odor."
Maurice Darbyshire, general manager of the golf course, would make just one comment on the Lake Anne situation:
"Hidden Creek Golf Club has been drawing water for irrigation from Lake Anne for 39 years," Darbyshire said. "During this period we are not aware of any loss of air conditioning to the housing units or problems with the environment."
But Gerald Volloy, executive vice president of the Reston Association, said the golf club has not taken water from the lake since last week, after being asked to stop taking water by the Reston Association.
"They are in the process of looking for an alternate source of water," Volloy said. "If they do not, we will get into a situation none of us want to face."
THREE YEARS AGO, Volloy said, another drought forced the golf club to look for an alternate source of irrigation water. The club bought water from Fairfax County. Volloy has suggested that Darbyshire do the same. Although he does not know the exact figures, Volloy said buying water from the county is "an expensive proposition."
To raise the water level on Lake Anne, the homeowners association has started to transfer water from Lake Newport, another Reston Association lake. Volloy said the Reston Association has drained just enough water from Lake Newport to sustain Lake Anne.
"But that’s not an answer either," he said. "We don’t want [the Lake Newport] water level depleted, especially with the mosquito concerns. We really need to get some rain here pretty soon or we will all be suffering the impacts. If we get a good, heavy, sustained rain for a day or two, all the water levels will be back up."