PHOTO: leaking water tank

Jonathan Weakley, general manager of the King George Service Authority, inspects a leaking water tank.

LIVING as they do in a county whose boundaries align with two major rivers—the mighty Potomac and the smaller Rappahannock—one would think that King George residents enjoy not only a plentiful, but also a cheap supply of drinking water. One would be wrong.

County residents, who already pay an average of $238.97 per 10,000 gallons of water, are facing a 10 percent increase next year, then 3 to 4 percent in the four years that follow, bringing the average two-month water bill to $304.63 by fiscal 2024.

With such an abundant supply of water literally on the county’s doorsteps, how did that happen?

The answer is that the King George Service Authority racked up $32.7 million in debt by borrowing an exorbitant amount of money to buy a number of private water systems and upgrade them, while simultaneously letting the county’s public water system get so bad that it now needs $15 million in repairs.

And raising the water and sewer rates is the only way the authority can pay off the outstanding debt and have enough money to upgrade its dilapidated system.

The Service Authority was created in 1992 to acquire privately owned water and sewer systems in order to allow more affordable housing to be built in accordance with the county’s Comprehensive Plan, “which called for a central sewer and water system owned and operated by the county,” according to a 2004 lawsuit. One of those systems was in the Presidential Lake subdivision, where only 33 homes had been built out of 354 planned in 1993 due to the developer’s difficulty in obtaining permits for individual septic tanks.

But after borrowing over $32 million to centralize the county’s water and sewerage systems, there seems to be precious little to show for that massive infrastructure investment—which comes out to $1,386 for each of the county’s 23,584 residents, or $5,544 for a family of four. And that doesn’t include the $15 million extra the Service Authority now says it needs for system upgrades.

It would be one thing if, after spending a total of $47.7 million, King George water system users could finally be assured that their water rates will stabilize after 2020, and they could finally see an end to the annual rate increases. They shouldn’t hold their breath. Not everyone in the county is on the public water system; that’s another reason why the rates are so high.

According to a 2015 state water supply plan developed by the state Department of Environmental Quality, King George County will experience a “water supply deficit” of 1.5 to 2 million gallons a day by 2030. “Alternative water sources identified include wastewater reuse, interconnection with a neighboring locality, reservoir development, and an intake on the Rappahannock River,” the DEQ plan stated.

Any one of those options will cost a lot of money. But if county residents have learned anything, it’s that even the new Service Authority management team needs strong public oversight and rigid accountability measures.

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