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As Fairfax County continues to work towards meeting stricter water quality goals, county leaders are considering whether the county should take a larger role in maintaining the stormwater treatment facilities now typically managed by homeowners associations.

Making this move would not be cheap, with initial estimates putting annual inspection and maintenance costs at around $3.5 million, and there are a number of complex legal considerations as well, said Randy Bartlett, deputy director of the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

For example, if a county-maintained stormwater facility wasn’t functioning properly and caused flooding on adjacent property on a regular basis, that could be considered a “taking” of private land.

“We could be opening up a potential liability,” Bartlett said.

The county currently maintains most of the dry pond systems in the county, as well as some wet ponds that serve more than one community.

Now, many developers are using different types of stormwater control systems that look more natural than a drainage pond. These can include systems like rain gardens in individual backyards, rather than a facility serving an entire community on HOA-owned property.

These smaller systems offer some environmental advantages, as they tend to be better at filtering and slowing runoff of water from storms, Bartlett said. However, they are more expensive for the county to maintain and more challenging in that they are located in backyards, and not common property.

County staff are also considering criteria for when the county would take over maintenance of a private stormwater facility. For example, they could take on maintenance of only new facilities, or they could accept facilities based on the owner’s financial capability to maintain the system.

They are also considering who pays for the maintenance. The county has a tax used for funding stowmwater projects but could also require property owners to pay a share of the maintenance costs if the county takes over.

Bartlett said he and his staff, as well as the county attorney’s office, are continuing to work through the legal and practical issues with stormwater facility maintenance and will come to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors with a refined proposal in the spring.