Manassas Journal Messenger | Water issues spark debate

Some of the people who live along the edge of the Occoquan Reservoir feel targeted by attempts to prohibit their structures and access to the water.

Those people expressed their concern at a meeting Wednesday evening that was designed to expose the regulating agencies that oversee the water’s protection.

Proposed changes that the water authority is trying to make to its shoreline easement policy, which dates back to the 1950s, are causing debate.

The policy, if approved by the water authority board, would prohibit sea walls and piers made of tires, tree trunks or creosote rail ties. It would also limit the size and type of piers and floats, which “shall be constructed to resist submersion and wet conditions.”

Paths leading to the reservoir would be limited to 6 feet wide on the Prince William side and removing vegetation would be prohibited.

But some residents oppose the new policy.

“It’s arbitrary,” said Jerry Sherman, who owns property next to the reservoir, which is owned by the Fairfax County Water Authority.

Sherman, who picks up trash along the reservoir daily, said he didn’t see the benefits of removing some of the existing structures, as set forth by the proposed policy.

“If it’s intended to benefit it, how does it benefit the quality of the river?” he asked. Some stairs, for example, prevent erosion, rather than people just walking down a steep hill through mud, he said.

Dale Schuler, who lives in Occoquan Forest, said he doesn’t want to see his neighborhood’s pavilion, boat ramp, canoe racks and playground removed due to the easement.

“They’re really picking on the best stewards of the river,” Schuler said.

But he did say cleaning the river is a good idea and that Wednesday’s meeting provided needed information.

“Their concept of improving water quality is certainly laudable,” he said.

And that’s what the water authority’s ultimate goal is, said Jeanne Bailey, public information officer.

The Occoquan Reservoir is the drinking water source for 1.2 million Northern Virginia customers and protecting the reservoir from contamination — which is the easement’s intent — is their priority, she said.

The easement itself proved to confuse and even anger some residents in attendance.

Bailey said the easements along the original 120 parcels adjacent to the reservoir were purchased in the 1950s.

“It’s not that we own your property, we just have rights to use your property,” she told the group of more than 100 people.

Since there are about 475 current property owners along the reservoir, she said some of the easement language might not be included on their property deeds.

As some residents have discovered, locating language describing the easement and its exact location on their property has turned into a tedious and time consuming task.

Sherman said he’s yet to see a map or official language that indicates water authority easement ownership.

“I didn’t see anything when we bought the house,” he said.

Some people suggested that the water authority should furnish those documents, but Traci Goldberg, chief of source water protection and planning, said that’s a huge project they’re working on.

But it could take a while, she said.

There is generalized language describing the easement, but there is no one official document that outlines the water authority’s 1950s easement purchase, she said.

The easements on 120 original deeds have been buried in decades of deed transfers and subdivision plans and locating those isn’t easy, she said.

She advised the group of residents to call the water authority and locate their properties on an easement map — that would help them speed up the process.

Each property’s easement is different, Bailey said.

The gentler the slope from the river, the more land the easement can cover, according to her presentation.

The reservoir touches land from the Lake Jackson dam to the Occoquan’s high dam and borders Fairfax County.

Staff writer Lillian Kafka can be reached at (703) 878-8091.

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