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Water Plant Problems Leave Businesses, Residents Dry

Springfield teens Ashley Pickup, Karin Burnett and Lindsey Waters went on a quest with friends Friday, Sept. 19, to eat out. Armed with cell phones, the two carloads of teenagers started in Alexandria, stopping at Hooters in Fairfax, Denny's, Old Country Buffet and a few more places, finding places closed because of water outages or lines that trailed around the corner.

"We went to about five restaurants, they were closed, every one," said Pickup. "We'd call each other on cell phones." When they finally arrived at a Taco Bell, "We didn't even eat there, we were frustrated," Pickup said.

The teens were among the many frustrated Fairfax County residents who encountered a water crisis following Hurricane Isabel. That Friday morning, the Fairfax County Water Authority put out a "boil-water notice," as a precaution because the electricity went out in all four water plants, opening the possibility of water contamination. The notice was aired, via the radio and television as well as newspapers when possible.

Jordan Ramsey is a waiter at the Roadhouse Grill in Springfield.

"We closed down at 3:30 on Friday," he said. "The Health Department called and said we can't serve water. I enjoyed the day off, but I definitely would have enjoyed the busy night."

"I still haven't gotten a good explanation on why the water was down," said Paul Russell, another Roadhouse employee.

Springfield plaza Dairy Queen manager Haji Amin admitted that Friday was a big day usually at the restaurant, but he used that day to clean.

"I know we lost business, but it's OK," he said. "It has been fixed. That's the main thing."

Hard Times Cafe manager Mike Dankwa lost business as well.

"We lost business between 11 and 3. Friday's the busiest day, but what can you do?" he asked.

According to information released by the Fairfax County Water Authority "as a precautionary measure, the boil-water notice was issued early Friday morning," because of a possibility of contamination. No explanation was given on how it might have been contaminated, but "sampling was conducted on Friday and Saturday to test for potentially harmful bacteria. No harmful bacteria were found in the sampling."

Following the release of that announcement, some businesses, closed while others served bottled water only and closed their rest rooms. Springfield resident Tammy Smith found the coffee pot at a 7-Eleven a rare commodity.

"People were fighting over it as soon as it came out," she said.

Mike Noblett took a road trip himself.

"We had to drive down to Potomac Mills for breakfast," Noblett said.

Then on Sunday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m., "The Virginia Department of Health confirmed that sampling conducted by water utilities in Northern Virginia verify that the water is safe for drinking and cooking. It is no longer necessary to boil the water."

ALTHOUGH NO ONE could remember a similar situation involving the loss of water from a storm, some wonder why backup generators weren't used.

"I just thought they should have their own power source," said Tammy Smith. "They should have already done that with Homeland Security. They need to look at their contingency of operation plans."

Fairfax Station resident Carol Zub agreed.

"The only surprise was there was no backup generator," she said.

Fairfax County Water Authority spokesperson Jeanne Bailey said it's not just as simple as hooking up a gas-powered generator. A small power plant would be needed, she said.

"It's not as simple as a generator. We have very large power requirements." Bailey said.

The last time Fairfax County had the water down completely was during Hurricane Agnes in 1972, when the county only had one water facility. They now have four facilities, which all lost power at the same time.

"This never happened to us before," Bailey said, noting that backup power is "something that's being looked at."

Although the water advisory was issued on Friday morning and water authority press release states it wasn't completely lifted until Sunday at 7 p.m., the boil advisory was only in effect 24 hours, Bailey said.

"It was a precautionary measure," she said. "We had people out at midnight Friday collecting samples."