Threat to Fairfax County Water

Prince William County approves massive data complex

So, what's in your water? Action earlier in November by one of Fairfax County's neighbors may negatively impact the Occoquan Watershed, primary source of water for Fairfax Water's Occoquan Reservoir.

The Comprehensive Plan Amendment #CPA2021-00004, PW Digital Gateway with changes approved on Nov. 2 by Prince William County allows for a technology corridor generally along Pageland Lane south of Sudley Road; north of Route 29; east of Conway Robinson Memorial State Park, Heritage Hunt and Catharpin Valley subdivisions; and west of Manassas National Battlefield Park and Sudley Mountain subdivision. It is where about 2,139 acres of the 80,000 acre Rural Crescent for the controversial PW Digital Gateway can be built. The massive size of the data complex could rival Loudoun County's global notoriety. 

The proposal generated concern and intense opposition from Fairfax Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) and the other supervisors on the board, the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations and the HOA Roundtable of Prince William County as seen in letter by Sridhar Ganesan president of Fairfax Federation to the Boards of Supervisors of Prince William and Fairfax counties, and many others. 

After a grueling 14-hour public hearing and discussion, that began Nov. 1 and continued to 10 a.m. the following day, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted 5-2 along Democratic party lines and approved the controversial Gateway. The amendment with changes rezones the land from Agriculture or Estate and Environmental Resource to "Technology / Flex with a T-3 Transect, POS, Parks and Open Space, CRHS, County Registered Historic Site, and an Environmental Resource Overlay."

The Prince William data center build is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue for the county. In 2021, the current Prince William data center hub generated approximately $80 million in tax revenue. Loudoun receives approximately $576 million. Estimates published in February by Prince William deputy finance director Tim Leclerc showed that the Gateway's revenue could be $400 million per year at the end of 20 years. 

"I am very disappointed that the Prince William Board of Supervisors voted 5-2 to approve the Digital Gateway Comprehensive Plan Amendment before fully studying and understanding the impacts on the Occoquan Watershed, the water supply for millions of Northern Virginians, or taking the time to fully consider the testimony of the 200 that testified last night," said Herrity on Wednesday, Nov. 2, reacting to news of approval of the Comprehensive Plan Amendment #CPA2021-00004, PW Digital Gateway, Item 3A, 

The Occoquan Watershed is a 570-square-mile basin. Three major impoundments are located in the watershed: Lake Jackson, Lake Manassas, and the Occoquan Reservoir. A dam in the Occoquan River forms the Occoquan Reservoir, one of the primary sources of water for Fairfax Water. It is the main water purveyor for the area, supplying water to nearly two million people, according "An Analysis of the Occoquan Watershed and Reservoir System" by Virginia Tech Apr. 15, 2021. 

The 2,100-acre Fairfax Water Authority impoundment reservoir supplies the water source for portions of Fairfax County, Fort Belvoir, and the City of Alexandria. Water from the reservoir is withdrawn by Fairfax Water at its Griffiths Treatment Plant at Lorton, Virginia, and distributed for potable uses. 

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors moved swiftly on the motion by Herrity concerning the downzoned Occoquan Watershed as a critical natural resource during Nov. 1 regular meeting. Herrity jointly presented the board matter with Chairman Jeff McKay (D), Supervisor Kathy Smith (D-Sully), and Supervisor Dan Storck (D-Mount Vernon).

Herrity said, “The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, on behalf of all citizens of Fairfax County, reaffirm its commitment to the continued efforts by the county, related agencies, and residents to protect and preserve this critical natural resource for future generations just as the previous Board did in 2016." 

Supervisor Daniel Storck (D-Mount Vernon) said that water is truly life. “The quality of that water makes a difference to all of us, whether to our youngest children or the oldest of us. … Because of the amount of drinking water pulled from the Occoquan, it’s even more critical.” 

Supervisor James R. Walkinshaw (D-Braddock) said, “It’s timely we affirm our commitment to that.” The Fairfax County supervisors unanimously approved the Herrity’s motion. 

The Board Matter came late and did nothing to sway not more than two supervisors on the Prince William County (PWC) board.

Neither did earlier comments by many Fairfax County groups and others.

On Feb 23, 2022, a memo coordinated among the Fairfax County Departments of Transportation, Public Works and Environmental Services, and Planning and Development to Rebecca Horner, deputy county executive of Prince William Planning Office, said that critical to Fairfax County is the protection of the Occoquan Watershed. ”The proposal to expand public sewer and water to serve the proposed data centers would not be compatible with the critical need to protect the Occoquan Reservoir … We have an overarching concern about the proposal to permit higher density development within the larger Occoquan Watershed due to cumulative impacts on the Reservoir, which provides drinking water to a large portion of Northern Virginia.”

In a letter dated March 21, 2022, the Fairfax County Water Authority said, “Substantial changes in land-use patterns in areas of Prince William County (PWC) will impact water quality in the watershed and reservoir.” 

On April 29, 2022, Kyle W; Hart, field representative of Mid Atlantic National Parks Conservation Association, wrote that if the Prince William Digital Gateway were fully developed, sediment loss from the development could “be expected to be up to 57,000 tons, the equivalent of approximately 4,000 large dump trucks of sediment being dumped into the Occoquan Watershed.”

“The additional sediment would lead to decreased water quality in Bull Run and the Occoquan Reservoir, negative impacts to the recreational angling the lake offers, and decreased storage capacity of the Occoquan Reservoir. Additional impervious surfaces created by this development would cause an additional 280 million gallons of additional stormwater runoff into the Occoquan Watershed annually, thus increasing the risk
of flash flooding downstream and decreasing groundwater and aquifer recharge,” said Hart.

Hart based his statements on findings by CEA Engineers with whom National Parks Conservation Association contracted about its growing concerns about the water quality. CEA is an environmental engineering firm with significant experience examining water quality impacts from development proposals 

"On our side of the water, I will continue to work to protect the watershed and monitor any upcoming land use cases that may threaten its quality," Herrity said in his Nov. 4 issue of “The Herrity Report.”