George S. Hawkins, General Manager of D.C. Water, said on April 22 the average monthly residential water bill will rise this year by 12.3 percent under a proposal to be voted on by the DC Water Board of Directors in July. Hawkins spoke to an audience of about 40 at a Ward One town meeting, held in the auditorium of Benjamin Banneker High School (800 Euclid Street NW). The meeting was one of eight such town meetings -- one for each ward -- held during the month of April to discuss "how rates are set and what is funded by ratepayer dollars".
If approved, the increase in water rates will take effect October 1, 2014 -- i.e., the beginning of Fiscal Year 2015.
Many of the individual line items on a water bill are staying the same or increasing less than 12 percent. For example, the average residential bill will see DC Water Retail Rates -- the largest single component of the bill -- increase 7.3 percent, from $53.56 in FY 2014 to $57.67 in FY 2015.
However, the Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge will jump more than 40 percent on the average bill -- from $11.85 in FY 2014 to $16.75 in FY 2015.
The Impervious Area Charge is based on the estimated amount of water
runoff from a property. According to the DC Water website, it is
designed so "owners of large office buildings, shopping centers and parking lots will be
charged more than owners of modest residential dwellings".
Homeowners may be eligible for a discount on the
Impervious Area Charge if they implement improved stormwater management
-- see explanation here.
Why is the bill going up so much?
Hawkins explained why this increase was necessary.
"The bulk of the cost is deferred maintanence," he said. The median age of water main pipes in DC is 79 years old. There are also 7000 miles of unlined cast iron pipers with a median age of 96 years old. Some of them date to the 1860's.
The Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge will fund a project mandated by law under a consent decree signed by DC and federal government authorities in the 1990's. Its aim is to reduce pollution in Rock Creek, the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, and Chesapeake Bay.
This project to reduce pollution is getting minimal assistance from the federal
government -- almost all of the funding will come from D.C. ratepayers.
Hawkins termed it "an unfunded mandate" by the federal government.
The project has many large and expensive components, including the construction, 100 feet underground, of a storm-water tunnel 26 feet in circumference and 13 miles long from Shaw and Bloomingdale to the Blue Plains Advanced Water Treatment Plant. The construction of the tunnel will result in street lane closures in Shaw and Bloomingdale -- see SALM blog post of April 15.
This will probably not be the last year of substantial increases in D.C. water bills.
November 2013 DC Water document predicts continued increases in the
average water bill -- 10 percent and 7.9 percent for FY 2016 and 2017,
respectively (see page 25 of a 39-page .pdf available here).
A member of the audience asked if it was possible to get more funding from the federal government for the project. Hawking said it was not likely.
People were, unsurprisingly, not happy to hear their water bill would be increasing. They complained about the increase but they seemed to understand Hawkins was not to responsible for the increase and there was no point in blaming the messenger. One community member called DC Water "the city's only unregulated utility" and suggested closer supervision might be necessary.
The eight ward-wide meetings are over, but there is one more chance to comment on the proposed rate hikes. The DC Water Board of Directors will hold a public hearing on
the proposed rate increases. The hearing will be
held on Wednesday, May 14, 2014, beginning at 6:30pm. The location will
be DC Department of Employment Services (first floor community room),
4058 Minnesota Avenue NE.