If I had to pick one recent day that encapsulates a Day in the Life of DC Water, a good candidate would be Tuesday, April 9. In the span of a few hours we celebrated the launch of one of the most ambitious and expensive projects in our history, and then met with ratepayers who will have to pay for that construction for many years to come. It was a good reminder that we need to be accountable, to ensure the benefits of our work aren’t overshadowed by the costs to our customers.
The temperature soared and a blue sky hung over Blue Plains when we gathered that afternoon for the official naming of the tunnel boring machine (TBM) that will dig the Blue Plains Tunnel. With a large crowd looking on, Mayor Gray did the honors, christening “Lady Bird” by breaking a bottle of DC tap water against her cutterhead. It was a great event and drew the attention of the public and many media outlets including the Washington Post (DC Water unveils giant tunneling machine to help cut sewage spills during rainstorms).
The massive size of that cutterhead – which is 26 feet in diameter and fronts a machine that’s more than a football field long (443 ft.) and weighs 1300 tons – gives you a sense of the enormous scope of the Clean Rivers Project. After she’s lowered into a 140 foot deep shaft at Blue Plains, “Lady Bird” will dig more than 4 miles along the Potomac River and up the Anacostia to the Main Pumping Station next to Nationals Stadium. Her work could end there, but the Clean Rivers Project will just be getting started with as many as 4 additional tunnels planned to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and Rock Creek. These massive tunnels will store sewage and storm water until it can be pumped up and treated at Blue Plains.What many people don’t realize is that this project is required, mandated by the consent decree signed in 2005 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Justice and the District of Columbia. And while there’s no denying the benefits – reducing CSOs by 96 percent and greatly improving the quality of the water in our rivers – this work is not cheap; the Clean Rivers Project is expected to cost $2.6 billion.
The federal government is contributing some money towards the project, but the lion’s share of the burden falls squarely on the shoulders of DC Water’s ratepayers, and primarily our customers in the District of Columbia. That is the message I carried to the Ward 8 Town Hall meeting held that night, just a few miles from the site of the naming ceremony.
Our rates, which have already doubled in the last 4-5 years, will continue to rise for the foreseeable future and most of that increase is tied to the huge investment we are making in our infrastructure.
The graphic below – which I shared with the residents of Ward 8 and the audiences at each of our town hall meetings – shows the estimated average residential monthly bill for FY 2014 compared with the current and previous years. As you can see, we anticipate an 8.8 percent increase for our ratepayers, including the cost of the Clean Rivers Project.
|Average Residential Monthly Bill (FY 2012-2014)|
DC Water does help thousands of residents pay their bills each year through our Customer Assistance Program, but regardless of income level, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure we are not wasting our ratepayers’ money. We need to be efficient and innovative, and continue to pursue grants and other federal funding for capital projects like Clean Rivers. So, while we celebrate the start of Lady Bird’s 24,000 foot journey through Potomac Clay 100 feet down, we need to stay grounded and constantly mindful of our duty to be accountable to and open with our customers. Our work is in the public eye – subject to scrutiny – and that’s the way it should be.