Since she was a young woman, Janet Weaver has had problems dealing with heat. She is also a cancer survivor and her husband has a heart condition.
"I cannot tolerate heat. I pass out from getting overheated," said Weaver, a senior citizen living at Hickory Cluster. Weaver’s home cooling system did not function properly for five days last week, during a spell of hot weather and no rain. "I can’t take my house being 85 to 90 degrees," said Weaver. She called Aqua Virginia, a Richmond-based company that operates Reston Lake Anne Air Conditioning System (RELAC), but found the company unresponsive, reaching an answering machine rather than a customer service representative.
Weaver relies on RELAC to cool her home. RELAC relies on sufficient water levels in Lake Anne to pump the water into the cooling system and recycle it back to the lake. During periods of drought the lake levels diminish. According to residents living near the lake and some Reston Association (RA) representatives, the problem is further exacerbated when Hidden Creek Country Club pumps water out of the lake to water its golf course. Weaver said she understood that the golf course needed the water to provide its services, but could not understand why Aqua Virginia did not provide water from elsewhere. Afterall, she said, the residents who were affected paid their bills for the service they were not receiving.
RELAC’s problems also affected the businesses around Lake Anne. Julie Lehman, a manager at Reston’s Used Books store on Washington Plaza, said it was more challenging to work in the store last week than during other times. She felt some of the customers were quicker than usual to leave the store. "I have no doubt it had some detrimental effect on the business," said Lehman about the heat.
On Monday the lake rose to a level where RELAC was able to provide heat relief to some of the customers. All day rain on Sunday and 16 inches drained from Lake Newport helped the water level at Lake Anne rise by a few inches.
ON MONDAY, July 30, RA took a step toward finding a long-term solution. It issued a "Cease and Desist" demand letter to Hidden Creek, asking it to, among other things, stop pumping water from the lake by 3 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31. If the country club failed to do so, RA will take "any and all necessary affirmative steps to insure that no further water is removed by the Golf Course from the Lake," according to the letter. RA CEO Milton Matthews said RA is not looking for a quick fix to the problem. "I don’t care if we have flood conditions tomorrow, we are looking for a long-term solution," said Matthews.
The demand letter also states that any previous permission given to the country club to use the lake’s water is revoked. Matthews said there was no agreement stipulating Hidden Creek’s ability to draw water from the lake. Rather, permission to use the water came in the form of RA knowing Hidden Creek used the water and had not objected to it. During drought conditions in the past, Matthews said, RA had asked the country club to cease using the water and it did. This year, he said, Hidden Creek continued pumping water despite RA’s demand.
"This [the demand letter] is an immediate response to inconsiderable action by Hidden Creek," said Robin Smyers, RA director representing the Lake Anne/Tall Oaks district. "This has been going on long enough," she said.
Hidden Creek issued a statement in response to the RA letter on Tuesday morning stating that the company has adhered to RA demands. "Between June 21 and July 12, no water was withdrawn from Lake Anne; and during the past two weeks, water withdrawal has been limited to five hours per day, Tuesday through Thursday," reads the statement. Hidden Creek also alleges that there is "ample water" for both RELAC and Hidden Creek’s needs. "We join with those in the community who question why RELAC has yet to implement simple improvements to its cooling system that would resolve the problem," reads the statement. It further stated that the country club is disappointed that RA resorted to having its counsel send a confrontational letter challenging its water rights at Lake Anne. It stated that, "Hidden Creek is lawfully entitled to withdraw water from Lake Anne and will vigorously litigate any attempt to prevent it from doing so."
The statement also alleges that Hidden Creek asked for RA’s approval in expanding its water storage pond, which would permit the golf course to draw and store more water during periods of abundance, reducing water needs in the summer months. "Reston Association is yet to respond to this request," reads the statement, which proposes that RA should address the real issue and "work to have RELAC solve the problem by improving its water intake system."
Both Smyers and Matthews said the problem does not stop with Hidden Creek, but extends to Aqua Virginia. As a public utility, regulated by the State Corporation Commission, Aqua Virginia should make sure it is providing the service the customers are paying for.
Smyers said she was frustrated because Aqua Virginia could have pumped in water from other sources, or paid for water from Fairfax County to provide the service. The company, she said, needed to take a much more proactive stand in delivering its service than it has been taking. For her part, Smyers said she asked RA staff to contact the company and see what its plans are for providing better services to the Lake Anne customers. RA’s action is "a response to my members, not Aqua Virginia’s plight," said Smyers. RA is also encouraging its members to contact Aqua Virginia to put pressure on the company, and stated that local elected officials are willing to assist their efforts.
"THE SERVICE is simply not acceptable," said Roger Brown, Waterview Cluster president. The cluster also uses RELAC to cool its homes. Brown expressed concern over a possible summer drought in a June RA district meeting, and asked that RA be proactive in preventing what happened last week. "RA ought to put pressure on Aqua Virginia," said Brown.
After learning about RA’s demand letter, Brown said he felt better about the situation. "Now there is help from Reston Association, someone we look to as our leaders," said Brown. "I do appreciate that RA has taken hold of this," he said.
Matthews said he had received a lot of calls during the week, both from overheated residents at Lake Anne and residents near Lake Newport, but could not specify the exact amount. Tens of e-mail messages were exchanged between Lake Anne residents regarding the problems. "There is a lot of talk," said Brown about the communication between the residents.
As of press time on Tuesday, Aqua Virginia representative, district manager Luther Gorley, did not respond to phone calls placed to him on Monday afternoon.