Local Commentary

Editorial: Knowing the Truth In F.C.’s Water Woes

Get used to the sign bearers who turned up on the Falls Church City Hall steps Monday night to protest the F.C. Council’s action to inch the City toward a public referendum on the prospective sale of its water system.

The D.C.-based “Food and Water Watch” showed up in Falls Church to draw attention to the problems of privatization of public services. But when they got to the microphone, they ran the risk of knowing little or nothing about the circumstances of this specific situation.

As they were told by F.C. Council members, if they have a problem with the course that the City of Falls Church may be heading with its water system, they would do far better focusing their energies on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors. It was they who made the moves to box Falls Church in, and who are far more influential than the tiny City of Falls Church. It will be interesting if this advice is heeded, or not.

The News-Press has been following the Falls Church water issue to the present stage on a week-to-week basis for 20 years. We’ve sat through and covered all the meetings starting in the 1990s when F.C. City officials mulled their options for the future of its system, a formidable asset with over 130,000 users in Northern Virginia.

We heard the arguments, pro and con, on taking a “return on investment” in exchange for risks involved in operating the system, and the recommendations of two teams of consultants hired by the City to advise it on a prudent, carefully-crafted approach based on ample precedents in Virginia and elsewhere.

It is arguable whether or not the City handled properly the sudden move by Fairfax County to no longer honor a long-held understanding about territories in the county traditionally served by the City’s and county’s systems. Huge investments in maintaining and expanding F.C.’s delivery system in its area had to be protected, it was argued, when six years ago the county moved to disregard the informal agreement.

Now, based on some court rulings since then, Fairfax Supervisors claim Falls Church was “breaking the law” by taking a “return on investment.” But the News-Press knows first hand that, while ourselves often not agreeing with decisions of F.C. officials over the years, no one in the Falls Church leadership at any point operated with anything but the greatest counsel and concern for the appropriateness and legality of their decisions.

To believe what some in the county insist, you’d have to presume that Falls Church is a veritable nest of crooks. As a newspaper that has monitored this process closely for 20 years, we know this is not the case.

On the other hand, nothing has surfaced to suggest that Fairfax’s actions are anything less than a bald-faced power move to seize control over the water service component of the enormous growth that is scheduled for Tysons Corner and Merrifield.