You might have noticed just how dry it has been for the past few weeks. Well, Virginia is currently experiencing a drought due to lower than normal precipitation in September and so far in October. Approximately half of the Commonwealth is in a moderate drought, including Fairfax County, while some areas west and south of Richmond are now in a severe drought. The good news is that the folks that manage our water here in Fairfax have painstakingly planned ahead for current and future drought episodes, so don’t be afraid to continue using your water as needed, especially to drip onto those parched plants and trees.
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit and tour the Griffith Water Treatment Plant in Lorton where I learned just how much hard work and planning goes into collecting, treating, and distributing the water that comes out of our faucets.
Fairfax Water pumps water from numerous different reservoirs in the Potomac and Occoquan watersheds, which stretch across Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, DC, and Pennsylvania. The raw water is pumped up to the treatment plant where it undergoes multiple levels of above-ground cleansing and filtration. Wires stretched across the filtered water deter birds like geese from landing in the water. Once inside, there are three machines at the Griffith plant that produce ozone gas in a contained environment. Ozone is an unstable, short-lived gas that degrades in as quickly as a few seconds to 30 minutes. As a purification method, ozone has greater disinfectant effectiveness against bacteria, viruses, and protozoans and has stronger germicidal properties than chlorination. In addition, the oxidizing properties of ozone can also be used to reduce the concentration of iron, manganese, sulfur and reduce or eliminate any taste and odor problems. The water is constantly monitored for sodium levels (which can be a challenge due to the use of salt during ice and snowstorms in the winter), both for health and taste issues, as well as turbidity (the clarity of the water) levels as it heads to distribution throughout the county. Fairfax Water not only has state of the art equipment, methods, and standards, but their staff are also well trained to operate the facilities. They can even do so manually, without computers, if the need ever arises, and that is something they practice in case of emergency.
Fairfax Water does extensive research and projected demands forecasting based on the historical data of maximum daily usage trends, with current forecasting stretching as far ahead as the year 2050. Fairfax Water has grandfathered water rights to both the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers and has acquired the rights to the Vulcan Quarry, which sits behind the Griffith plant. After the quarry has been mined out over the next 70 years, Fairfax Water will begin using the quarry to create a new reservoir, capable of holding 17 billion gallons of water. This extra storage will help prevent future water shortages in cases of extreme droughts.
Fairfax Water was formed in September of 1957 when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors proposed the creation of the Fairfax County Water Authority. Before 1957, there were 24 separate water systems throughout Fairfax County. Today there are only three: Fairfax Water, and Herndon and Vienna, of which the latter two are wholesale customers of the former. Fairfax Water issues revenue bonds to pay for the water system and maintains a AAA bond rating from all three rating agencies.
Fairfax Water now serves over 2 million Northern Virginia residents, which accounts for 1 out of every 4 Virginians served by public water. Fairfax Water maintains the two largest water treatment facilities in the Commonwealth, which produce over 170 million gallons of water per day.
You will be very happy to know that compared with other companies in the water industry, Fairfax Water is more affordable, with service costing 0.22% of real median household income. The industry median is 0.74% of real median household income. On average, Fairfax Water also has some of the lowest basic water service charges of any water service in the region, lower than DC, Prince William, Manassas Park, Leesburg, Loudoun, and Arlington, among others.
We should recognize that Fairfax Water is a respected industry leader that upholds their customers’ trust by providing water of exceptional quality and reliability, at a reasonable price, while supporting the high quality of life and economic vitality of our region.