Water travels in a cycle above, on and below the surface of the Earth. Our drinking water, wastewater and stormwater runoff are all part of this water cycle, but there are separate systems involved in each. The information below explains how Fairfax County manages our water's various uses and how you can help keep it clean for future generations.
Where does my drinking water come from?
Your drinking water can travel a great distance before it reaches your tap. Water comes into your house or building from either a public water service provider or a private well.
Public Water Service: The two primary sources of public drinking water in Fairfax County are the Potomac River and the Occoquan Reservoir. Water from these sources is treated and distributed by one of several service providers depending on your location within Fairfax County.
Wells: Where public water is not available, private water wells supply water. Groundwater is the largest fresh water supply, and protection of this resource is vital. More than 15,000 homes and businesses in Fairfax County rely on groundwater wells for their domestic water supply. For more information, email the Health Department or call 703-246-2201, TTY 703-591-6435, for information about permits, installation and approval of private wells.
Where does the water from my sink and toilet go?
If connected to the public sewer system, wastewater from your tub, sink and toilet goes down the drain, through a series of pipes and to a wastewater treatment plant where it is cleaned and returned to local waterways. To learn about the treatment process, watch the Wastewater Management video (kids version - Where Does the Flow Go?), or call 703-550-9740, TTY 703-893-8489.
Where public sewer is not available, a septic system may be installed with approval from the Fairfax County Health Department. Septic tank systems carry wastewater to an underground receiving/holding tank under your yard which must be pumped out regularly. For more information, email the Health Department or call 703-246-2201, TTY 703-591-6435, or visit the Onsite Sewage and Water website.
Stormwater is runoff such as rainwater, melting snow and ice.
- In natural areas where the land has not been paved, this runoff soaks into the soil and may be taken up by plants or enter the groundwater system.
- In heavily developed areas, stormwater runoff from roads, sidewalks, driveways, roofs and other hard surfaces cannot soak into the ground, but instead flows rapidly off these impervious surfaces and into the storm drainage system.
The runoff is carried either to a stormwater management facility or directly to lakes, streams, rivers or wetlands. On its path to our waterways, runoff can pick up pollutants such as sediments, excess nutrients, toxic substances and disease-causing microorganisms. These pollutants have potentially harmful effects on drinking water supplies, recreation and our fish populations. Ultimately, this polluted runoff makes its way to the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay through our many watersheds. For more information on stormwater management, please email the Stormwater Planning Division or call 703-324-5500, TTY 711, or see the Stormwater section of our website.
How can I protect my water?
Each of us makes daily choices that affect the quality of our water and the health of our streams. Protecting our water is something we all can do by being good stewards of this natural resource!
Be the Solution to Pollution
- Keep litter out of streams
- Can the grease (video)
- Don't flush your medications
- Dispose of hazardous materials properly
- Clean with least toxic cleaners
- Use a soil test to determine how much fertilizer to apply
- Limit pesticide use
- Pick up after pets, even in natural areas
- Install a rain barrel or plant a rain garden
- If you hire a lawn care company, consider one that has completed a water quality agreement with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
- Carpool or use alternative transportation when you can
- Maintain your car to limit fluid leaks
- Wash your car on your lawn or at a commercial car wash
Protect Your Stream, Plant a Tree!
Planting trees along our streets, in our yards, in our parks and adjacent to our streams also can improve the quality of our water. Find out just how useful trees are on the by reading the How Do Trees Benefit Me? website. However, some of our forests are being overtaken by non-native and invasive species. Find out more about these species and how you can help remove them from our environment with the Fairfax County Park Authority's Invasive Management Area program.
Volunteer for Clean Water
Consider one of many volunteer opportunities here in Fairfax County.
What is the county doing to protect our water?
Through a number of partnerships and stewardship and education efforts, Fairfax County seeks ways to use all resources wisely and to protect and enhance the county's natural environment and open space.