Fairfax City Opts to Keep its Water System
By STEPHEN SIEGEL
Falls Church Times Staff
June 18, 2012
Officials from Falls Church City and Fairfax Water are now preparing for more amiable discussions about a possible friendly merger of their two water systems. But sources say a deal is still far from reality.
If a friendly merger cannot be arranged, there always is the possibility of keeping the water system, and there’s a model for that decision right in the City’s back yard: Fairfax City, which considered selling its water system recently but decided against it.
An independent city just like Falls Church City, Fairfax City is similar in many ways, albeit significantly bigger, with a population of about 22,000, compared to about FCC’s 11,000, and a physical size of 6.3 square miles compared to FCC’s 2.2.
It also has an independent water system that dates back 50 years. But it considered selling it and buying water from Fairfax Water, the largest system in the area and one that offers lower water rates to its customers, owing primarily to the latter’s ability to generate economies of scale.
Ultimately, Fairfax City officials decided not to sell it, despite the advantages of lower rates for residents that Fairfax Water could offer.
“Our water bills over time would have been somewhat lower, but not sufficiently so that argument didn’t carry the day,” said Bob Sisson, Fairfax city manager.
Fairfax City’s water system was begun 50 years ago, at the same time the city became independent of Fairfax County. It drew water not from the Washington Aqueduct, which supplies Falls Church’s water, but from Goose Creek in Loudoun County, Mr. Sisson explained.
It also now uses the larger Beaverdam Creek Reservoir, which is a source of pride for the city, and also allows fishing and non-motorized boating.
“The city has some really beautiful assets,” Mr. Sisson said, adding: “There’s great fondness for our facilities. We have employees there; we didn’t want to terminate their careers. So many aspects were important to the City Council and the economics did not sufficiently make a difference.”
Fairfax City officials also liked having control over their water supply.
“We can control our own destiny” with our own water system, Mr. Sisson said. “We don’t achieve an economy of scale, but we do control the future of our system and are able to adjust when we need to and are in control of that.”
Fairfax County is trying to take some of that control, asserting the right to set water rates for all County residents, and Fairfax City has joined Falls Church City officials in suing to prohibit them from doing so. Fairfax City, like Falls Church City, has many water customers in Fairfax County.
The lawsuit and the legislation are on hold as of June 15 while Fairfax Water and Falls Church City officials see if a friendly deal can be reached to end the seven years of litigation and recriminations.
By Stephen Siegel
June 18, 2012