Brief Notes from the DC Water Ward 1 Town Hall Meeting

Participants of the Ward 1 DC Water town hall milling about prior to the meeting.

Participants of the Ward 1 DC Water town hall milling about prior to the meeting.

As part of DC Water’s citywide series of town hall meetings, they held their Ward 1 meeting at Harriet Tubman Elementary School last night. The meeting was held in the cafeteria, with roughly 70 in attendance (including everyone from DC Water). The meeting began shortly after 6:30 pm and was over around quarter past 8. The beginning of the meeting included a welcome and commentary by Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau before DC Water General Manager George S. Hawkins began his presentation.

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Hawkins began by giving an overview of of DC Water, which is an independent authority of the DC Government established in 1996. It answers to an 11 member Board of Directors made of up 6 members from the District of Columbia and 5 members from the surrounding suburbs. It is a not-for-profit organization, which Hawkins stated was different from other local utilities.

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DC Water manages 1,350 miles of pipes and 1,900 miles of sewers. The reason that there are more miles of sewers than water mains is that there are parts of the city where the waste sewer system is separate than the storm sewer pipes … though in many areas of town this is one and the same, which is part of the problem during heavy down pours. The entire system of waste water feeds into the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, which treats an average of 300 million gallons per day.

There were a couple of facts that were shared that were interesting. One was that tests for lead in our water has resulted in the lowest levels of lead in the water since DC Water began testing. Another was that our water infrastructure is aging, with the median age of water mains being 79 years old, half the mains installed before 1936, and the oldest mains — still in use — dating back to the Civil War.

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Finally, there was a great deal of discussion about the Clean Rivers Project, which is DC Water’s ongoing program to reduce combined sewer overflows into the District’s waterways — the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and Rock Creek. The Project is a massive infrastructure and support program designed to capture and clean water during heavy rainfalls before it ever reaches our rivers. It is a $2.6 Billion project and upon its completion, it will capture 97% of the storm water runoff in heavy rains and keep them from entering out area waterways.

The importance of the Clean Rivers Project (federally mandated as part of the Clean Water Act) to the average District resident, is that it will impact local water bills via a rate increase. For example, a total bill of $85.17 in FY 2015 is proposed to be $96.53 in FY2016. But, if residents can reduce consumption to 4 Ccfs, the bill would decrease by 18% to $69.77. The portion of the handout related to rates is below.

DC Water rates(Click on image for larger version)

The proposed new rates also includes a Lifeline Rate, which steeply discounts the first 4 Ccfs of water consumption (approximately 3,000 gallons). Residential customers who can keep their water usage below 4 Ccfs could potentially see a reduction in their overall bill rather than and increase. Interestingly, 44% of residential households are already using 4 Ccfs or less.

DC Water also provided a handout with four ways residents can reduce their water bill (below). Following the presentation, Hawkins took questions from the assembly. Some of these focused on usage spikes, burst pipes in the winter, and issues related to the impervious area charge.

DC water 4 ways to save

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