Living just outside the Herndon town limits on the southwestern end, the authority over my apartment’s water is the non-profit Fairfax Water (see Image 1).1,2 Although this is the provider, the actual source of water comes three main areas: the Potomac River, the Occoquan River, and wells or other jurisdictions.2 The water from the Potomac River comes from an actively flowing intake just north of Great Falls, making it the closest source to me (although that still may not be where all my water comes from – see Image 2).2 In contrast, the Occoquan River isn’t tapped directly at the flow of water, it is instead stored and brought in from the Occoquan Reservoir on the southern edge of the Fairfax County (see Image 3).2 Even though these two powerhouses provide their respective treatment plants with up to 272 million gallons of water per day, well over the 135 million gallons that this distribution area requires, Fairfax Water still makes use of a small amount of well water and water from other jurisdictions.2
The quality of my drinking water is most definitely at risk from new industrial and residential development over the next 20 years. According to Fairfax Water’s 2011 Annual Water Quality Report, both the Potomac and Occoquan Rivers are “of high susceptibility to contamination” in their present state.3 As the Chesapeake Bay Program best stated, population growth is closely linked with water quality, so if the sources are already highly susceptible, they will only be at a higher risk to contamination as the population blossoms in the future.4 And blossom it will. According to the most recent census data, Loudoun County, the closest county bordering the Potomac River upstream, grew at a whopping 84.1 percent between 2000 and 2010.5 Not only do these numbers explicitly show that more people are migrating to the Potomac’s watershed, it also implicitly tells us that more residential and industrial areas will be need built in order to house and employ those people. The Occoquan Reservoir is not immune to this madness either. Its two upstream tributaries, Bull Run, and the Occoquan River, flow through both Prince William County (the second fastest growing county at 43.2 percent) and Loudoun County.
Now that we know exactly where my water comes from at apartment, we can begin to analyze exactly where that waste goes when my wife and I are done with it. Starting with the basics, my wife and I probably flush the toilet fifteen times per day. Since my toilet is a low flow, 1.6 gallon per flush toilet, that means that we are using approximately 24 gallons of water each day of the year. As for the shower, my wife and I take a single shower each day, lasting about 10 minutes each time (we like long showers). Assuming our showerhead is five gallons per minute, we are using approximately 100 gallons of water per day. This 124 gallons of approximate wastewater that we use each day has to go somewhere, and in our case, it goes downhill to the Blue Plains Treatment Plant (see Image 4).6 Before reaching that plant, our sewage will have to flow for nearly 40 miles, making its way through a maze of underground piping before finally crossing the Potomac River.
After being treated at the Blue Plaints Treatment Plant, our treated sewage will be ejected back into the Potomac River to eventually makes its way into the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Being the Potomac River, it would seem more of the counties and jurisdictions downstream would use this river as their water source much like Fairfax County does at Great Falls. By looking at the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System and comparing that to a map, you can see that only Quantico and Dale City possibly use the Potomac as their main water source.7 All other counties downstream seem to mainly rely upon groundwater, lake, and reservoir sources, possibly because the treatment of contaminated water downstream from the population is far too expensive to be cost effective.8,9,10,11
1 Grymes, Charles. “Drinking Water in Virginia.” Geography of Virginia. Web. 07 Nov. 2011. <http://www.virginiaplaces.org/watersheds/drinkwater.html>.
2 “Metropolitan Washington Region Water Supply Agencies.” Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Web. 07 Nov. 2011. <http://www.mwcog.org/environment/water/watersupply/suppliers.asp>.
3 2011 Annual Water Quality Report. Rep. Fairfax Water Authority. Fairfax Water Authority. Web. 7 Nov. 2011. <http://www.fcwa.org/water/ccr/2011%20CCR%20pdf%20for%20Web.pdf>.
4 “Population Growth.” Chesapeake Bay Program. Chesapeake Bay Program. Web. 06 Nov. 2011. <http://www.chesapeakebay.net/populationgrowth.aspx?menuitem=14669>.
5 Cai, Qian. “A Decade of Change in Virginia’s Population.” The Virginia News Letter87.4 (2011): 1-3. Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. University of Virginia. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. <http://www.coopercenter.org/sites/default/files/publications/Virginia%20News%20Letter%202011%20Vol.%2087%20No%204.pdf>.
6 “Wastewater Treatment.” Fairfax County, Virginia. Fairfax County, Virginia. Web. 07 Nov. 2011. <http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/wastewater/treatment.htm>.
7 “List of Water Systems in SDWIS – Prince William County.” US Environmental Protection Agency. US Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 7 Nov. 2011.
8 “General Information.” Stafford County, VA. Stafford County, VA. Web. 07 Nov. 2011. <http://www.co.stafford.va.us/index.aspx?NID=984>.
9 “Service Authority.” King George County. King George County. Web. 07 Nov. 2011. <http://www.king-george.va.us/county-offices/service-authority/service-authority.php>.
10 “List of Water Systems in SDWIS – Westmoreland County.” US Environmental Protection Agency. US Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 7 Nov. 2011. <http://oaspub.epa.gov/enviro/sdw_query_v2.get_list?wsys_name=&fac_search=fac_beginning&fac_county=WESTMORELAND&pop_serv=500&pop_serv=3300&pop_serv=10000&pop_serv=100000&pop_serv=100001&sys_status=active&pop_serv=&wsys_id=&fac_state=VA&last_fac_name=&page=1&query_results=&total_rows_found=>.
11 “List of Water Systems in SDWIS – Northumberland County.” US Environmental Protection Agency. US Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 7 Nov. 2011. <http://oaspub.epa.gov/enviro/sdw_query_v2.get_list?wsys_name=&fac_search=fac_beginning&fac_county=NORTHUMBERLAND&pop_serv=500&pop_serv=3300&pop_serv=10000&pop_serv=100000&pop_serv=100001&sys_status=active&pop_serv=&wsys_id=&fac_state=VA&last_fac_name=&page=1&query_results=&total_rows_found=>.
- Chesapeake Bay Watershed (aaronfoltz.com)
- The Occoquan Dam (verticalaccessllc.wordpress.com)
- Decline in dead zones: Efforts to heal Chesapeake Bay are working (eurekalert.org)
- House, States slam EPA on Chesapeake Bay (junkscience.com)
- Landlubbers Paddle the Potomac, Part 3 (geocachechronicle.wordpress.com)
- A Summer Moment’s Wilderness (geocachechronicle.wordpress.com)