We thought it would
be interesting to share some of our history with you. This
is a four-part series with one part presented each quarter
through our 50th year.
Part 1: 1957-1967
Prior to the creation
in 1957 of the Fairfax County Water Authority (now known
as Fairfax Water), Fairfax County was supplied water through
many small, mostly private water systems, and a limited number
of public systems. There was no standardization between systems
and each system maintained its own rate schedule and level
In order to improve service reliability, establish equitable
rates, and provide effective fire protection throughout Fairfax
County, the Board of Supervisors created Fairfax Water in September
1957 for the purpose of “acquiring, constructing, operating
and maintaining an integrated water system for supplying and
Under the Virginia Water and Waste Authority Act, the Fairfax
Water Board is empowered to set water rates and issue revenue
bonds to operate the water system.
One of Fairfax Water’s first tasks was to hire an Engineer-Director
to oversee day-to-day operations. James J. Corbalis Jr. was
selected to head the organization. He had 17 years of professional
engineering experience, including serving as Fairfax County
The acquisition of water systems began in 1959 with the purchase
of the Annandale Water Company. Over the next eight years,
Fairfax Water would acquire an additional 17 systems and began
to build a comprehensive water-supply system.
By the end of 1967, Fairfax Water had 832 miles of mains, 3,354
fire hydrants, and 54,000 metered accounts serving more than
425,000 people. Revenues were $2.7 million in 1967 and full-time
employees numbered 143.
Part 2: 1967-1982
Created for the
purpose of “acquiring, constructing, operating and
maintaining an integrated water system for supplying and
distributing water,” Fairfax Water had, by 1967, accomplished
its primary goal of integrating several disparate water systems.
With this important groundwork done, the focus shifted to maintaining
a reliable water supply and distributing safe, clean water
to our customers.
Fairfax Water’s sole surface-water source in 1967 was
the Occoquan Reservoir, located on the southern border of Fairfax
County. With an estimated capacity of seven billion gallons,
it was apparent that additional water sources and production
facilities would be needed to meet demand. In addition, the
Occoquan faced increasing water-quality concerns from point
and non-point sources of pollution. In 1971, the State Water
Control Board approved the Occoquan Policy, which laid the
groundwork for protecting our primary drinking water supply.
In 1972, Fairfax Water suffered its worst disaster with the
arrival of Hurricane Agnes. After nearly 16 inches of rain
in 36 hours, the Occoquan water treatment facilities were flooded.
Storage tanks were depleted and system pressure was lost. The
supply line between the reservoir and the treatment plant was
Almost 35 hours after a total water-production shutdown, limited
water service was restored to Fairfax County. Full service
was restored about eight days later. This was accomplished
by a coordinated effort between various federal and local resources.
Full repairs to damaged structures took another four years
In 1973, new water-treatment facilities were placed into operation,
providing an additional 24 million gallons per day of capacity
and bringing the total daily water-production capacity to 76
million gallons. To augment water-supply storage, the height
of the dam at Occoquan was raised two feet in the late 1970s,
bringing the reservoir capacity to 8.3 billion gallons.
Even with these improvements, additional supplies and treatment
facilities were needed to meet the ever-growing demand for
water. In response, the James J. Corbalis water-treatment facilities
were built and began operation in 1982 using water from the
Potomac River. The Corbalis Plant was formally dedicated on
June 25, 1982, and was designed to treat up to 50 million gallons
of water per day.
Along with other major water suppliers in the Washington Metropolitan
Area, Fairfax Water participated in a regional study of the
Potomac River. Recognizing the benefits of cooperation, the
three water suppliers (Fairfax Water, Washington Suburban Sanitary
Commission, and the Washington Aqueduct), agreed to the Water
Supply Coordination Agreement of 1982, with a goal of coordinating
operations and meeting the long-term water supply needs of
By the end of 1982, Fairfax Water had more than 1,800 miles
of mains, more than 10,300 fire hydrants and nearly 126,000
metered accounts serving more than 650,000 people. Revenues
were $27 million and full-time employees numbered 289.
Part 3: 1983-1994
On June 28, 1985,
after 27 years of service as Fairfax Water’s first
engineer-director, James J. Corbalis, Jr., retired. In July
of 1985, the Board of Directors voted to change the name
of the Potomac Water Treatment Plant to the "James J.
Corbalis, Jr., Water Treatment Plant." It was the least
they could do to honor a man who worked tirelessly for the
people of Northern Virginia.
Fred P. Griffith, the first deputy director of Fairfax Water,
was appointed to succeed Mr.Corbalis as engineer-director.
The 1980s was a period of exponential growth for Fairfax County.
Many farms and fields became subdivisions filled with new homes.
Applications for new water service ballooned to as high as
7,500 new connections per year. During this time, Fairfax Water
continued to bolster system capacity and reliability through
new transmission lines and upgrading of storage and pumping
In 1991, Fred Griffith retired and Floyd F. Eunpu, then the
deputy director of Fairfax Water, was appointed engineer-director.
In 1993, he was succeeded by Charlie C. Crowder, Jr.
Fairfax Water's commitment and focus became obvious on March
28, 1993, when emergency operations commenced to combat a ruptured
oil pipeline. Much of this oil flowed into Sugarland Run, a
tributary of the Potomac River above Fairfax Water's raw water
The spill forced an emergency shutdown of the Corbalis treatment
plant. Fairfax Water quickly lost production capability at
a plant that normally provided 50 percent of the potable water
to a population of more than a million people. Fortunately,
Fairfax Water’s almost unique ability to draw and distribute
water from two different sources prevented a total crisis.
Within hours, water restrictions were announced and emergency
personnel were deployed to monitor water quality and provide
additional support in the production and distribution of the
water. Interconnection agreements with other water companies
were exercised and production capabilities were maximized at
our Occoquan facilities.
Water pumps and valves were re-configured to reverse water
flow through the distribution system. Instead of water flowing
out of the Corbalis treatment plant, water produced at the
Occoquan treatment facilities was routed through the Corbalis
distribution system. This action enabled Fairfax Water to continue
service in areas that would have had service disrupted due
to the spill.
For 17 days, emergency operations prevailed until the threat
to the water system passed.
Barely nine months later, another disaster struck with unusually
frigid temperatures from January 15 through January 23, 1994.
In eight days, employees serviced 17,500 customer calls, thawed
7,000 frozen water meters, repaired 54 main breaks, and worked
11,500 hours of overtime to provide continuous water service
to the customer base.
By the end of 1994, Fairfax Water had more than 2,700 miles
of water mains, more than 17,300 fire hydrants and more than
197,300 meters. Revenues were $87 million and full-time employees
Part 4: 1997-2007
This period begins
with an application to the State of Maryland for a building
permit to construct an off-shore intake on the Potomac River.
A key tenet of water treatment is to start with the best
source-water possible. Over the years, Fairfax Water studied
the water in the Potomac River and found that water closer
to the center of the river contains less sediment most of
time. In an agreement dating back to 1785, Maryland has jurisdiction
over the Potomac River to the low-water mark on the Virginia
shoreline. So, Fairfax Water needed to obtain a building
permit from Maryland to build a new intake. After Maryland
denied Fairfax Water’s permit, the Commonwealth of
Virginia became involved in the case, citing the need to
protect the right of Virginia to access such a vital resource.
The case ultimately was heard before the United States Supreme
Court (Original 129, Virginia v. Maryland) in the spring
of 2003. In December 2003 the Court handed down a ruling
in favor of Virginia, and Fairfax Water ultimately built
the off-shore intake. Having two intakes on the Potomac does
not mean Fairfax Water can draw twice as much water from
the river. Having two intakes means that Fairfax Water can
now operate its intakes to the best advantage of its customers.
The New Millennium began with several significant events in
Fairfax Water's history. In 2000 the James J. Corbalis, Jr.
water treatment plant became the first water treatment plant
in Virginia, and one of the few in the nation, to use ozone
to treat the water. Also in 2000, Fairfax Water was assigned
a triple-A bond rating. At the time, Fairfax Water was the
only independent public water agency in the United States to
have such a designation. At about the same time, construction
began on the new Frederick P. Griffith, Jr. water treatment
plant. The plant was constructed to utilize the latest available
treatment technologies and began operations in May of 2006.
During this period several events occurred nationally that
brought safety and security to the forefront of our thinking.
Through Y2K, all of our systems were checked and upgraded as
needed to ensure reliable operations after the new-century
date change. Then, in 2001, the terrorist attacks further highlighted
our need to enhance security and system reliability. In September
of 2003, Hurricane Isabel hit Virginia and knocked out power
to 80% of Northern Virginia. With all of these events in mind,
Fairfax Water has begun a comprehensive system reliability
project to protect our system from future vulnerabilities.
The project includes additional storage, as well as back-up
power for our major facilities.
The story of Fairfax Water and its mission may best be illustrated
by then-Chairman Morin's 1997 remarks about Fairfax Water’s
"satisfying record demands for water, developing advanced
treatment methods and facilities, providing excellence in customer
service, and maintaining the exemplary financial management
that secures our commitment to the people we serve."
We have a proud and rich history and hope you have enjoyed
learning a bit more about your water source. Fairfax Water
is proud of its past and dedicated to providing its customers
with excellent service in the future!