Raspberry Falls Water

By Samantha Bartram

Leesburg Today

Dec. 8, 2011

Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates residents have been looking for a solution to their water woes for years now—a search intensified by the 2010 discovery that surface water had infiltrated one of the Raspberry Falls wells.

Representatives of Loudoun Water, the Board of Supervisors and the Town of Leesburg met with dozens of residents Wednesday night to discuss two options aimed at solving the water quality concerns: installing a membrane filtration system or extending utility services from Leesburg via a new pipeline.

After a study examining the options to address water quality in the neighborhoods north of Leesburg, Loudoun Water and consulting firm Hazen & Sawyer released the results for membrane filtration and a pipeline extension in August. Hazen & Sawyers’ Aaron Duke gave an overview Wednesday of the data that contributed to the findings, plus estimated cost breakdowns of each system were it to be implemented. Overall, the pipeline option would cost significantly more than the membrane filtration option, although both offer their share of pros and cons.

Membrane filtration, a proven treatment method in Virginia, would cost $4 million, according to the study, and would add $67,000 per year in operating costs to the existing system. The current annual operating costs for the Raspberry Falls system is $50,000. Putting in a membrane system to serve both Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates would carry estimated capital costs of $8 million, and $217,000 in annual operating costs, according to Loudoun Water’s study.

For the pipeline option, the study settled on a recommended route feeding from the Town of Leesburg’s main zone, up Rt. 15 from Tuscarora High School to Raspberry Falls. If the Board of Supervisors wanted to move forward with that option it would require legislative approval from the county and the Town of Leesburg would have to agree to take over ownership and operation of the pipeline.

The estimated capital costs for the preferred pipeline option are $7.5 million, with annual operating costs of $418,000–an estimate that was provided by the Town of Leesburg. Because the existing well system at Raspberry Falls would not be used in the pipeline option, $418,000 is the total annual cost.

Again and again, residents wanted to know specifically how Loudoun Water and the town came up with the numbers, and stressed they wanted the “right decision” to be made for the community.

“Ultimately we want the best long-term solution for the community… when you look at some of the options and details, the devil is in those details. A better understanding of cost is imperative,” Ted Maschler, a Raspberry Falls HOA board member, said.

“The concern we have is making sure what we do now is the right thing, even if it’s the harder right. So if the pipeline is right, we want that solution.”

Loudoun Water General Manger Dale Hammes acknowledged there was a perception his organization prefers the membrane filtration option versus the pipeline, but said that was unfounded.

“We want to hear from you, the county and others about the pipeline option. We have not made up our minds,” he said.

Assistant County Administrator Charles Yudd pointed out more than once the pipeline option would mean juggling another set of issues—legislative road blocks that would have to be cleared in order for Leesburg to extend its pipeline to Raspberry Falls.

“Central utility extensions are not permitted [in rural policy areas] at this time. We have that constraint,” he said. “We can change the Comprehensive Plan if directed, but we haven’t been directed to do that yet.”

However, Hamilton-area resident Sally Mann challenged Yudd’s claims.

“There are provisions that say if the long-term quality or quantity [of a community system] is questioned, then the Comprehensive Plan allows the extension of central water. The permit that Raspberry Falls has is for a public utility facility, not for a community system, so the Planning Commission determines whether or not extension of water conforms with the Comprehensive Plan, but the Comprehensive Plan does allow extension,” Mann said, drawing applause from others in the room.

Mann also suggested the authority consider becoming a wholesale customer of the Town of Leesburg, buying water in bulk, transferring it to a storage facility, then processing it themselves. Hammes explained that would not the best action for his company, as they would have to relinquish a certain amount of quality control if they chose to buy bulk water from the town.

“There are ways to treat water at different locations, but the best way to do it is to have control of the optimal option—that ensures the best quality for all customers,” he said. “Being a wholesale customer is a challenging position for a utility. Central storage would mean another water treatment plant, and that would blow cost through the roof.”

As the meeting waned, residents returned repeatedly to the $418,000 annual operating cost estimate of the pipeline option. One speaker asked Deputy Director of Utilities for the Town of Leesburg Aref Etamadi to explain how his office arrived at that number. Etamadi pointed to flushing costs and employee salaries as eating up a significant chunk of that figure—”It costs $60,000 a year just to flush,” he said. “It could take half a day, once a week to adequately flush that pipeline.”

Still, Maschler and others were not satisfied with Etamadi or Loudoun Water’s explanations of the pipeline operating costs.

“We need details behind the $418,000 number. Let’s get that quantified, please,” Maschler said.

Loudoun Water will continue to accept questions and comment from the public through Dec. 31.

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