DC WASA now DC Water

On Tuesday, 6/15/10, the DC Water and Sewer Authority launched a comprehensive re-branding campaign that include the name DC Water, a new logo featuring a water drop, the slogan “water is life,” and a new Web site. According to the new site, DC Water held a month-long public competition in February 2010 to come up with the new logo. The new branding was chosen from elements in three of the 188 entries.

The following commercial is also part of the re-branding strategy:

As part of this unveiling, DC WASA hosted a blogger roundtable on the evening of 6/17/10 to explain their reason for doing this and give those  present the opportunity to better understand the District’s water future.

DC Water’s General Manager, George S. Hawkins, ran the roundtable. Hawkins was named to his post in September 3, 2009. One thing that was clear from the onset of the meeting was Hawkin’s enthusiasm about his job and agency.

Hawkins made it clear that the chief goal of the re-branding was to make the agency more visible and transparent — and as an extension, accessible — to residents. Still, a nice graphic does not translate into superior service. Hawkins gets this and made it clear that service was a high priority for him and DC Water as a whole. To emphasis this point, he cited the use of clear performance standards that not only have goals of 100% customer satisfaction — a goal he admits may never be met — but also creates a culture that recognizes and rewards employees who take initiative (Hawkins referred to a recent event where an employee improved an accounting procedure).

Another area where DC Water is improving is in its ability to communicate clearly and quickly with residents when issues of water safety arise. A good example was in April, 2010, when a spike in chlorine levels occurred while DC WASA’s Fort Reno facility was offline. DC WASA issued an early do not drink warning to residents as a precaution. They later confirmed there was no health threat. The improved timely response is the result of how earlier community notices — especially past concerns with lead levels — had been handled in the past.

Citing a crumbling infrastructure as the Achilles heel for the city, Hawkins informed the group that the average age for the pipes in DC’s water system is around 76 years. By comparison, the depreciation age for a newly installed pipe is 60 years. To give a better idea of the aging water system, Hawkins stated that 20% of the pipes in the city predate 1900, 3% predate 1860, and the pipe underneath Pennsylvania Avenue dates to 1859.

As one can imagine, the chief obstacle before DC Water is a solid capital improvement program. While they will always have resources to repair damaged pipes and for emergency responses, there currently is not the funding to support the large scale improvements needed to modernize a system with 1,300 miles of water pips, reservoirs, water treatment facilities, etc.

To better position DC Water to take on such improvements they will continue pursuing current and new funding sources, such as continuing to lobby congress for funds. They have also proposed a rate increase for water and sewer service. If approved, the rate increase would increase the average monthly water bill from $51 to about $60.

In listening to Hawkins, though, its clear that he feels strongly about the Federal Government paying their share. One example he used to make his point was DC Water’s Impervious Area Charge. To date, the Federal Government has refused to pay this fee, yet 20% of the area impacted by an impervious surface is Federal.

Whether the agency wins its funding fight or not, its clear that Hawkins has high goals and standards for DC Water. From his clear preference for green solutions; to his goals of high customer service & satisfaction; replacing, enhancing, or redesigning the current infrastructure; and working to keep the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers clean; DC Water has a lot on its plate. It will be interesting to see how much progress has been made a year from now.

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