To understand the Mountain Water Systems, one needs to understand the Mountain Subdivisions they serve. Both Keyes Ferry Acres and Harpers Ferry Campsites were developed from a single original tract of land. The tract was over 500 acres. The land was purchased as a partnership of Howard Speaks and Eby Rollison. Before development started, Speaks and Rollison divided the tract. Mr. Speaks started Keyes Ferry Acres on the northern portion and Mr. Rollison sold the southern portion to Gilbert Clark who started Harpers Ferry Campsites. Mr. Clark also purchased the land east of Chestnut Hill Road to the top of the mountain and started the Westridge Hills Subdivision. The water systems were constructed as the subdivisions were built.
Keyes Ferry Acres was the first subdivision to be started. The first platted section was recorded on May 21, 1964. Keyes Ferry Acres was platted and developed as 34 sections with the last recorded in 1973. Harpers Ferry Campsites and Westridge Hills both were developed over the same time frame.
The three communities were platted into roughly 2,500 lots. Many homes are built on more than one lot. Like many other old communities in Jefferson County, the smallest lots are far too small for a home and a septic system. In these cases, multiple lots must be combined to provide an adequate home site. There are approximately 370 existing homes in three subdivisions. It has been estimated that the buildout of the three communities would add an additional 500 home sites over the next 20 years.
Lee Snyder was employed as a sanitarian with the Jefferson County Health department in 1973 and can readily recall having visited most of the water producing pump houses in each of the three communities in 1973 and 1974. Most of these pump houses still remain in service today.
Harpers Ferry Campsites and Westridge Hills were both subdivided with the intention of providing certain lots for camping. In order to accommodate camping, both communities were provided with bath houses. These facilities have long since been abandoned. The concept of camping in these communities was accompanied by permanent year round residents from the early years of these developments. The history of inadequacy of the water systems extends back for several decades. The records of complaints at the Public Service Commission extend back to the 1970’s. Long-time Keyes Ferry Acres resident Jim Walker says the water system had problem shortly after it was started in the 1960’s.
Some of the first constructed homes in Keyes Ferry Acres in the 1960’s were in fact recycled buildings. Howard Speaks had a construction contract in Langley Virginia building a parking lot at the CIA Headquarters. The job required the removal of nine steel prefabricated World War II military barracks buildings. Howard cut the buildings in to halves, hauled them to Jefferson County and reconstructed them to provide affordable homes. Some present day homeowners say they have served the purpose well. A number of the structures are still occupied today.
The three Mountain communities were apparently provided with a central water system in order to avoid both the cost of individual wells and the need to drill wells on relatively small lots which would have provided challenges in assuring adequate separation between wells and septic system absorption fields.
From the beginning, the Mountain Water Systems were not of adequate design or construction. The systems in Harpers Ferry Campsites and Westridge Hills were constructed with PVC pipe. While the PVC pipe mains there are undersized at 2” and 2 ½” diameters, it is far better than the 1 ¼” polyethylene pipe laid in Keyes Ferry Acres. Apparently, the Health Department had little regulatory control over the design of the three Mountain Water Systems. Even the engineering standards of the 1960’s would have mandated larger pipe sizes than were used in these communities. The Public Service Commission was, in the 1960’s, not effective at regulating small water systems until after they were constructed. Once these inadequate systems were built, the course of inadequacy was irreversible. All three systems suffer from wells that are of low capacity and high concentration of iron and manganese. These metals are oxidized by chlorination creating red and black precipitates. The presence of these metals ni the water is not a health concern. Hoever, they are certainly an aesthetic concern principally with the stains caused on white laundry. The dissolved metals in the water have caused a buildup of turbiculation inside of the water lines. These deposits restrict the flow of water through the long, small lines. These restrictions result in a pressure drop to customers whenever a leak or high demand occurs. Fortunately, the Health Department and the Public Service Commission have implemented more stringent standards to assure better materials and construction and require that a responsible utility be involved with both the construction and ongoing management of such systems to assure that these sorts of problems are not allowed to develop in the future.
All three water systems have had a number of owners and operators over the years. Both the Health Department and the Public Service Commission have lengthy records of the persistent problems in the systems. The operational problems of the systems have resulted in the imposition of moratoria on new connections in each of the systems. In the case of Keyes Ferry Acres and Westridge Hills, those moratoria were imposed by the Public Service Commission. In Harpers Ferry Campsites, the moratorium was imposed by the State Health Department. The oldest moratorium, in Keyes Ferry Acres, has been in effect for 28 years. These moratoria cannot simply be ignored. Utilities are under an obligation to supply service. It is reasonable to expect that if the public/private partnership were to fail in its goal to replace the systems in the most economical fashion, the Public Service Commission may order the system be replaced without regard to funding the most economical way to achieve it.
In 1988, the Jefferson County Public Service District was appointed receiver of the Keyes Ferry Acres Water System. The District worked diligently to keep the system operating and to try to improve it. The District employed Pentree Engineering to design a large water project in 1997 known as the Blue Ridge Water Project. The water project involved extending water service from Charles Town along Route 9 and out Hostler Road and Chestnut Hill Road to the three communities. The project would have required seven miles of water line to reach the affected communities. The project was designed to serve a substantially larger customer base than the existing three Mountain Communities. The District undertook a survey in 2000 to determine the interest of the public in the availability of public water service within the Blue Ridge Project area. The survey determined that there was not significant support to undertake the project and it was abandoned.
In 2000, Jefferson Utilities, which owned and operated three other water systems in Jefferson County, entered into agreements to acquire all three of the Mountain Water Systems. In 2001, Jefferson Utilities prepared a design for upgrading the three Mountain Systems with adequate sized lines and a water plant located off Keyes Gap Road in Harpers Ferry Campsites. In the summer of 2002, the water pump house on Cardinal Trail burned to the ground. Jefferson Utilities quickly re-established service in conformance with the plans for the new water plant to be located on Cardinal Trail. Later that year, the water plant building was constructed with completion prior to freezing weather in the fall of 2002.
Jefferson Utilities has endured substantial operating losses on the three Mountain Water Systems for every year it has owned them. In 2002, Jefferson Utilities applied for a rate increase and accepted a settlement with the Staff that was 25% below its cost of providing service, not including capital improvement cost. In spite of these losses, Jefferson Utilities has continued to do whatever it takes to supply constantly improving water service in the three communities and to replace lines with adequately sized lines in accordance with the plans developed in 2001.
The tremendous commitment of resources and capital from Jefferson Utilities has provided significant improvement in water quality, pressure and dependability. The public/private partnership with the critically important support of the Jefferson County Public Service District has made the goal of replacement of the three Mountain Water Systems achievable. The only thing required to achieve this goal is the continued cooperative and proactive support of Jefferson utilities, the Jefferson County Public Service District, the Jefferson County Commission, the customers of Jefferson Utilities and the stakeholders within the county. By working together, the solution to this 40 year old problem is attainable. We must not let this opportunity escape us.