Officials discuss future of Vienna tap water service — possibly leading to Fairfax Water takeover

Fairfax Water’s headquarters in Merrifield (via Google Maps)

The new year may bring changes to how water is provided in and around the Town of Vienna.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authorized staff on Dec. 5 to begin discussions with the town and Fairfax Water about the future of public water delivery service in areas currently served by Vienna Water.

Joined by Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn says he initiated the request for “a more in-depth discussion” in response to concerns about the discrepancy in rates from residents who live in the county but get water service from the town — which describes about a third of Vienna Water’s nearly 5,600 customers.

“This is a little bit of a hole in the donut for Fairfax Water,” Alcorn told FFXnow. “…Their water rates are significantly lower than Vienna Water’s, and Vienna Water, basically, it’s an older system, and what I’m interested in is a win-win possibility for Vienna Water to somehow work even more closely with Fairfax Water, if not be absorbed by Fairfax Water.”

The largest water utility in Virginia, Fairfax Water provides drinking water to nearly 2 million people, including residents of Fairfax County, the town of Herndon and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.

The two cities joined the system in 2013 and 2014, respectively, after years of resistance that included a federal lawsuit accusing Fairfax County of trying to monopolize the region’s water supply. The Town of Vienna was also part of that lawsuit, ultimately agreeing to purchase water from Fairfax Water while continuing to maintain its own system.

Even though the water it provides comes from Fairfax Water, Vienna Water charges a higher rate, starting at $6.40 per 1,000 gallons, compared to $3.65 per 1,000 gallons for Fairfax Water.

As of Dec. 1, Fairfax Water’s base water service charge of $80.65 is lower than all other D.C. area jurisdictions except for Herndon, which charges $75.03. Fairfax Water has proposed an increase to $84.72, starting on July 1, 2024, but that would still be lower than other localities, including the Town of Vienna, which charges $136.35.

“I’ve heard the most [complaints] from constituents that are Vienna Water customers who live in the Hunter Mill District but outside of the town boundaries,” Alcorn said, noting that Vienna Water’s service area also includes some Providence District residents. “They have asked me to look into this.”

It remains to be seen whether this discussion will go more smoothly than the ones the county had with Fairfax City and Falls Church. A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge ruled in 2010 that Falls Church’s water rates amounted to an “unconstitutional tax on county residents,” according to a 2011 Washington Post story detailing the then-ongoing clash between the county and city.

Vienna Finance Director Marion Serfass says the Town gets “occasional complaints from residents about water rates, but there is not a large volume of them.”

“More often they appreciate the prompt customer service they get from Vienna,” Serfass said.

According to Serfass, the town has budgeted $4.4 million to support its water system for the current fiscal year, which started on July 1 and ends June 30, 2024. That includes $2 million to buy water wholesale from Fairfax Water.

Another $1.5 to $1.7 million is spent annually on capital improvements for the water system, which includes 131 miles of distribution piping maintained by the town’s Department of Public Works.

If Fairfax Water takes over Vienna Water like it did with Fairfax and Falls Church, it would assume the responsibility of maintaining that infrastructure, but Alcorn emphasized that he’s not advocating for that approach just yet.

“[It’s] too early to say if that’s the outcome or not, but that’s why we need to have the staff-to-staff discussion,” Alcorn said.

The Board of Supervisors directed staff to provide an update on the Vienna Water discussions by this summer.

Image via Google Maps

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