City Looks Upstream to Reservoirs for Drought Relief

City Looks Upstream to Reservoirs for Drought Relief

Drought is hitting the area hard in February, bringing concern to areas in Fairfax County; Washington, D.C.; and Montgomery County, but the City of Fairfax remains unscathed because of its 25-mile pipeline into a reservoir near the Appalachian Mountains.

"We're not facing a shortage of water at this time," said Shahram Mohsenin, the director of the city's Department of Utilities.

The reservoir supplies all the water to city residents and sells some in Fairfax County, such as to residents that live along Hunter Mill Road, according to Mohsenin.

"It's a very small amount," he said.

The city's 200-million-gallon reservoir and treatment facility is on Goose Creek in Loudoun County. The city also has a reserve supply in the 1.3-billion-gallon reservoir on Beaverdam Creek, which is in the same area in Loudoun. In that area, the rainfall has been greater, so the reservoirs have remained full through the dry fall. The city started these reservoirs 40 years ago.

"Their source of water is near the Shenandoah, and they've had more precipitation than we have," according to city information specialist Todd Hoffman.

It was confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that "during the week ending Feb. 26, more than two inches of rain fell at many locations in an area centered on the southern Appalachians, temporarily boosting stream flows and providing slight relief from long-term drought," according to its Web site.

Mohsenin did note the difference in terminology.

"‘Drought’ doesn't mean ‘shortage of water,’ it means ‘lack of rain,’" he said.

It's news to Katherine Abregu, who is an avid gardener and notices the lack of rain in the area.

"A lot of bulbs aren't coming up, my perennials and ground cover. I did see neighbors washing their car, one lady was filling their pond up," she said.

The rest of the area has not been so lucky. According to the USGS, stream flows are below normal at 87 percent of the gauging stations in Maryland and Delaware and 100 percent of the ground water observation wells in the two states are below normal. In addition, the amount of water entering the Chesapeake Bay is at the second lowest level for February since 1937. That is down 10.28 inches since Sept. 1, 2001.

The National Weather Service confirmed the lack of precipitation for the winter.

"Precipitation remains below normal over the last three months to a year," as stated on the Web site.

Mohsenin did distinguish the difference between a winter drought and a summer drought. The water is used much more in the summer months.

"What we have now is a winter drought, '98-'99 was summer, there was more demand on the water," he said, indicating pools, plants, watering lawns and washing cars are popular summer activities that put a strain on the water supply.

"That puts a demand on the system," he said.

The last summer drought in 1998 and 1999 caused the Council of Governments to form a task force to focus on water use. It consists of representatives from Alexandria; Arlington; Washington, D.C.; College Park; Falls Church; Fairfax City; and Fairfax, Frederick and Montgomery counties. They focus on an overall effect.

"Everybody has been put on a watch," he said, but stressed conservation at all times to save the resource.

"Even then it's good to wisely use the water," he said.