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Congress, City Spar over WASA

Council members Carol Schwartz and Jim Graham are fighting back -- or, at least, talking back -- in the wake of the Senate's move Monday to overturn a District law passed last year that would have increased city control over the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority. As the Post reported yesterday (second item), the Senate said no to the city's attempt to move the finances of WASA under the control of D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi. The House also voted to overturn the city's law, approved last year by the D.C. Council.

City leaders said the move made sense as a way to increase oversight of WASA, created in the mid-1990s as a quasi-independent agency during the city's financial crisis. At that time, Mayor Marion Barry had used funds dedicated for the water and sewer system, which also serves parts of the Maryland suburbs, to cover budget shortfalls. Under the new set up, WASA was controlled by a board of directors, with representation from the District and the Maryland suburbs.

Now, Schwartz and Graham are cracking back on Congress, angered at the slap against home rule.

"Once again, the District of Columbia has been kicked to the curb by Congress," Schwartz said in a statement. "The District pays 68% of WASA's operating costs, and all of WASA's facilities are located in, and owned by, the District of Columbia. For this reason, I have always felt that our independent and congressionally-mandated CFO should be involved in WASA's oversight. WASA provides drinking water only to DC residents and businesses and not to surrounding jurisdictions which receives only sewage treatment services. When we had the lead-in-the-water crisis some time ago, it was DC's drinking water that was affected, and no one else's. But Congress yesterday, took oversight of WASA away from DC's CFO - not a good thing!"

Graham said: "This is a serious violation of the rights of the people who pay the water bills in the District of Columbia."

By David A Nakamura  |  June 18, 2008; 4:10 PM ET
Categories:  City Finances , David Nakamura  
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