Photo by Dottie Mae on Flickr.

DC Water is seeking to raise water rates approximately $6.50 per month for FY12 to fund its Clean Rivers Project and pay debt service on its 10-year $3.3 billion capital improvement budget.

The largest portion of the rate increase comes from a higher impervious area charge (IAC), a fee assessed on property owners for surfaces that rainwater cannot penetrate.

The utility held its first forum Tuesday night in Ward 3 to gather public input on the rate increase. DC Water General Manager George Hawkins gave a short presentation on the authority’s capital improvement projects. Residents then had a chance to ask questions, most of which concerned the IAC, hydrant maintenance, and lead levels in the water.

DC Water collects the IAC to pay for its Clean Rivers Project. This project aims to clean up pollution in the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and Rock Creek. Approximately 2/3 of water runoff ends up in the Anacostia.

In the proposed budget, the IAC would increase from $3.45 to $6.87 per month, almost a 100% increase.

Other increases in DC Water rates included a retail rate increase from $46.09 to $48.84, DC PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) increase from $3.28 to $3.55, and DC Right of Way fee increase from $0.94 to $1.00. The total monthly increase would be $60.29 to $66.79, based on an average monthly consumption of 5,004 gallons of water.

Hawkins said DC Water originally intended to bundle the IAC with the retail rate for water. The fee would then depend on the water usage of a property. DC Water instead assesses the fee on all properties with impervious surfaces. This way, the fee captures properties with impervious surfaces but little to no water use (e.g. parking lots).

The IAC was a flat fee for all customers until October 1, 2010. DC Water changed the structure and created six tiers of properties, based on the amount of impervious surface on a given lot. Thus a person living in a rowhouse would pay less than the owner of a parking lot.

DC Water also collects an IAC for the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) for its own stormwater management program.  One resident asked why DC Water does not call the IAC a tax. Others argued that because of water conservation systems on their property, the IAC is unfair.

Hawkins argued that the IAC is a fee, not a tax, because it is collected for a sole purpose: funding the Clean Rivers Project. For this reason, the fee also applies to the federal government, which owns a significant amount of property with impervious surfaces in the District. See this earlier post about that very issue.

Hawkins further explained that water conservation efforts would not lower the costs of the Clean River Project, so there is little incentive to offer rate deals to customers. DDOE, however, will offer incentives for conservation, thereby lowering its portion of the IAC. Hawkins indicated these incentives would be in place soon.

Though the IAC does apply to the federal government, it does not apply to District roads. Hawkins said this arrangement was part of the original decision to implement the fee. He indicated it would be difficult to now apply the fee to the city.

Hawkins highlighted some of DC Water’s other capital improvement projects. The authority is replacing water mains and separating storm runoff from sewage lines.

He also said DC Water has mapped all fire hydrants in the city using GIS mapping. This allows DC Fire & EMS to monitor hydrants and find the necessary water pressure during emergencies. Low water pressure was a major factor in the fire that destroyed the Cafritz mansion in July 2009.

Lastly, Hawkins addressed questions about lead levels in the District’s drinking water. He said lead levels are lower than or at federally mandated levels of 15 parts per billion. He suggested galvanized pipes, solder, or lead fixtures could increase lead levels. Residents can ask to have their water tested if they suspect higher levels of lead.

The forum was the first in a series of public meeting DC Water will hold throughout March and April, with one in each ward. They will hold a final public hearing on May 11th. Residents can submit written testimony if they cannot attend. 

Jamie Scott is a resident of Ward 3 in DC and a regular Metrobus commuter. He believes in good government, livable communities and quality public transit. Jamie holds a B.A. in Government from Georgetown University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown.