- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority and city officials are "on a collision course" over issues that could drive up residents' water bills by 13.5 percent, WASA officials told The Washington Times.
The D.C. Council has increased a "public space occupancy permit rental fee" from which the quasi-independent utility contends it should be exempt, said WASA board Chairman Ron M. Linton.
In fact, the city's fiscal 2001 budget raises the fee from 14 cents per foot of a utility's lines to 88 cents per foot and estimates WASA would pay about $6 million.
But Mr. Linton said WASA's actual contribution would be $14 million to $19 million, forcing the utility to raise service fees on the average household by $43 to $56 a year.
Mr. Linton said it is against the law for WASA to pay the levy, which was authorized in 1996, because:
* It is directed at the owners of utility lines. The District owns the water and sewer lines that WASA operates.
* WASA is required by law to use its funds and charge customers only for its water delivery and waste-water treatment services. The levy would be used for street repairs and maintenance that otherwise would be paid for from the city's General Fund.
If WASA's board does not refuse to pay a $1 million bill the city already has sent for April through June, Mr. Linton said he will sue WASA to enjoin it from paying.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams' office, which proposed imposing the new levy and applying it to WASA, contends it's an equitable means of addressing street repair costs.
While WASA has paid the costs of repairs after it digs through streets and sidewalks to maintain lines, the city's Department of Public Works has been paying indirect costs of "associated wear and tear," said J.R. Clark, the mayor's deputy director for council affairs.
Rate increases may be "an unpleasant part of having road repairs made," Mr. Clark said, adding that he hopes WASA will find another way to cover the expense.
Mr. Linton suggested that council members, many of whom face re-election this year, have endorsed the fee increase to create new revenue while holding on to tax cuts they have approved.
In addition, a court order aimed at curbing sewage runoff into storm drains is putting WASA at odds with city government as the D.C. Department of Health works with the Environmental Protection Agency on plans to clean up the Potomac and Anacostia rivers and Rock Creek, Mr. Linton said.
Health officials have outlined a schedule for cleaning the waterways by 2004 but haven't determined how or by how much to reduce runoff. Nor have they conferred with WASA officials on their plans, Mr. Linton said.
The Health Department's action comes in response to a consent agreement between the EPA and the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund, which has sued the EPA successfully around the nation for not making state and local governments comply with standards set by the Clean Water Act.
WASA, which runs but does not own the city's sewers and storm drains, is prepared to be the lead agency on storm-water management, Mr. Linton said, but it can't direct the Health Department, which is a city agency.
Mr. Linton said he is afraid the mayor and Health Department officials are "being pushed to solutions that are more costly than necessary."
However, Mr. Williams has made it clear that restoration of the Anacostia is a high priority for his administration, said city environmental quality chief James Collier.
"Controlling pollution is expensive; that's why people don't like to do it," Mr. Collier added.
The D.C. Department of Public Works ran the city's water and sewer system until 1996, when WASA was authorized to provide those services. The executives of the city and surrounding counties appoint members to WASA's board.
WASA has an annual operating budget of $236 million and a capital improvement budget of $1.6 billion.

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