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New Law Offers Water Relief for County Residents Paying City Prices

Fairfax City charges more for water than Fairfax County.

Hundreds of thousands of Fairfax County residents who live just outside of other jurisdictions, like Fairfax City, will start to see cheaper water bills as of July 1.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed landmark legislation Tuesday taking control of all water rates charged to county residents and control of the millions of dollars in water fees that will flow from new developments.

The board voted unanimously to lower water rates now paid by hundreds of thousands of other county residents who live in Fairfax County but receive their water from systems operated by Fairfax City, Falls Church, Vienna and Herndon.

“Rates may not be as low as Fairfax County water, but I certainly expect that the rates charged that I’m familiar with ... will be lowered," said Dranesville Supervisor John Foust.

He added during the board's discussion of the new legislation, the rates “may not be as low as Fairfax water but I do expect it will have the consequence of lowering the rates for all providers.”

Currently Fairfax County water rates are nearly $46 cheaper than Fairfax City Water rates for the average homeowner. Who's paying more than their Fairfax County neighbors? Some residents in Fair Oaks, Mantua Hills, Westchester, George Mason University, Flint Hill Manor and more. Click here for a full list of Fairfax County neighborhoods serviced by Fairfax City.

The milestone legislation was preceded by years of water wars between Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church. Ninety percent of Falls Church's 34,000 customers reside in Fairfax County. Falls Church increased its rates in October. Sen. State Chap Peterson (D-34) whose district stretches from the Beltway to Centreville, last week threatened to introduce state legislation to stop the county.

The new law, which goes into effect July 1, says "no provider of retail public water service within Fairfax County" can charge county residents rates "greater than the corresponding rates ... imposed by the Fairfax County Water Authority."

However, water providers like Falls Church Water can submit information to the county justifying higher rates. Those higher rates would have to be approved by the county's Department of Public Works and the Board of Supervisors.

“The City of Falls Church asked that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors defer action on this ordinance, to allow time to respond to our serious concerns and create a new path,” City of Falls Church Mayor Nader Baroukh said in a release Tuesday. “That alternate path is a mutually beneficial outcome that ensures the safety and reliability of the City water system and reflects the value of that system. Instead, the Board chose to rush to enact an ordinance that is anticompetitive and not in the best interests of our County water customers.”

Vice Mayor David Snyder said Tuesday’s action by the county’s board of supervisors was “a blow for regional cooperation.”

“Over the years, the City of Falls Church has taken on significant risk so that Seven Corners, McLean, Merrifield, and Tysons Corner—the economic engine of the County—could develop,” Snyder said in a release. “The City has provided reliable and safe water at rates that are below the average for the region.”

Rob Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens Association, said the organization has long supported giving the county control of rates because it ”would address the large disparity in rates between county and city."

“County residents can’t vote for city council members” and that means they have no voice in the setting of rates, Jackson said. “We wholeheartedly support” the legislation.

ESF December 09, 2011 at 10:52 PM
I'd like to know more about why these County residents became customers of the Cities in the first place. Was the City actually providing a service that the County was not at that time prepared to economically provide? If the cost of water was less expensive than the County's would this action be taken? What will be the effect on the residents of the Cities?
Whitney Rhodes (Editor) December 09, 2011 at 11:24 PM
Thanks Edward. We're working on follow-ups to this story. We still have a lot of questions we'd like to address.
Douglas Stewart December 10, 2011 at 01:01 PM
Another thing to keep in mind is that Fairfax City water customers get their water from the Goose Creek reservoir in Loudoun County. As long as development in Loudoun doesn't increase sedimentation too much there, we have a cleaner water source than the Potomac River.

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