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How your water bill affects your commute

Yesterday's monstrous traffic backups, caused by a water main that broke under New York Avenue NE, highlights a nasty reality: Our pipes, in Washington and across the country, are getting very old.

The pipe that broke was 79 years old -- just a little older than average for D.C.'s water system.

Right now, the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority replaces its pipes at such a rate that the whole system gets replaced every 300 years. The national average is a full replacement every 200 years, according to WASA spokesman Alan Heymann. Neither is very good, and that's one big reason why water mains break, and why they're breaking more and more often.

And that's where the politics comes in. WASA General Manager George S. Hawkins proposed to do something about it. Under the new budget he's submitted to his board, WASA would accelerate its pipe-replacement program to a 100-year cycle.

But that costs money.

For one, Hawkins has asked the federal government for more help. But he also wants WASA customers to pitch in. Right now, the average WASA bill is a little more than $50, and if the budget passes, that average bill would rise in October by more than $8. (Read more about rate hikes.)

That's not nothin'. And Hawkins would like to keep the rate hikes coming.

He's been putting on the hard sell. The New York Times profiled Hawkins and his crusade for more infrastructure investment in March. In an interview I did with Hawkins earlier this year, just after he unveiled his budget, he hoped that ratepayers would be willing to pay much more -- especially in a world of $80 cellphone bills and $120 cable bills.

"This is my hope, that they'd say, 'Ten? I'm giving 'em $20 more, because I like what they do so much!'" Hawkins told me.

While Hawkins seems to have the support of his board, he's come under fire for floating a steep rate hike amid record unemployment -- not least of which from Ward 1 council member Jim Graham, who has nominal oversight of WASA but does not control its budget.

So what do you think? Are you willing to pay $5 or $10 more per month so water mains can get replaced more quickly? And so you might not get stuck in another epic traffic jam?

Incidentally, you can share your feelings with WASA directly. Tonight, the agency is holding the last in a series of town hall meetings on the rate hikes, at 6:30 at Hillcrest Recreation Center in Ward 7. And next Wednesday, there will be a public hearing on the hikes.

Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post

By Mike DeBonis  |  June 3, 2010; 4:12 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. WASA , The District  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Vince Gray and streetcars: What do you think?
Next: Don Peebles: Still thinking


Does everyone just forget all the fee increases WASA has passed in the past 5-6 years already?

Starting in 2004 with an "emergency rate hike" and going to 2008, WASA increased fees yearly by nearly double digits, specifically to pay for the lead pipe replacement. Then they tell us last year that they don't intend on doing it. Well, why do you need to keep collecting these ridiculous rates you passed soley on the back of the "lead pipe" replacement?

WASA also claimed last year (FY-09)they had 500 million already in a fund for old pipe replacement.

So I ask, but don't expect any answer to...

Why do you need yet ANOTHER rate increase when you've been collecting at twice inflationary rates for a program you aren't doing, and have half a billion dollars already set aside for this program?


Posted by: Nosh1 | June 4, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Nosh1, let us point you to a quick resource online that will help answer your excellent questions.

A complete rundown of the programs your ratepayer dollars are funding, along with the history of retail rates and comparison to other cities, can be found here (PDF):

We also welcome your comments at our public board hearing on rates Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, 777 North Capitol Street, NE (First Floor Training Room).

DC WASA Public Affairs

Posted by: DCWASA | June 4, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

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