- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2001

The basement in Serita Sanders' rowhouse on U Street NW is ruined. The waterline from the Aug. 11-12 storms is shoulder-high, the drywall is disintegrating and it is unlikely she will receive enough money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover necessary renovations. "I have at least $50,000 in damages," she told reporter Brian DeBose of The Washington Times. "I have to replace a washer and dryer, and my basement will have to be gutted." Miss Sanders is but one of 3,000-plus taxpayers whose homes and businesses were damaged, not just by rain water but rain water contaminated by raw sewage. What's more, some victims, including Miss Sanders, were unable to send those troubles down the drain because the drains maintained by the city were clogged or closed.
Clearly, what we had here was a natural occurrence with a combination of factors heavy rains, low elevation and inadequate public works joining to create the worst flooding (or so D.C. officials claim) since World War II. While the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) can't control the rainfall or elevate people's houses, it can and must do something about the pipes.
Indeed, the storms, which hit center city (from Dupont Circle east to Bloomingdale) were a very unhealthy and nasty reminder that perhaps WASA has been doing more spending and talking and not nearly enough digging and pipe-laying. After all, Congress, the D.C. Council, the Army Corps of Engineers (which treats the city's drinking water) and other pertinent U.S. agencies cited the true culprits three mayors ago: an aged water works system. Two mayors ago they began planning changes. One mayor ago they created the regional authority (WASA), and three years ago WASA left Wall Street with $266 million in revenue bonds.
Since then, however, little has happened. This despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency handed the city what essentially was a $73.5 million rebate earlier this year and rate increases in both water and sewer usage are in the works for the next two years. Further, Council member Carol Schwartz, the Republican chairman of the D.C. public works panel, and her colleagues are trying to secure $12 million from the federal government, and Mayor Anthony Williams has secured millions in disaster aid for government-owned properties. Meanwhile, all WASA and the Corps can say is the flood caused the backup which is simply unacceptable.
The future, though, does hold promise. WASA has scheduled public hearings on both the combined water-sewer line overflow and on the proposed rate increases. And, Mrs. Schwartz has scheduled a public hearing for Oct. 4. That does not mean, however, that taxpayers have to wait to speak out. As a matter of fact, it would be best if they start talking right now because if they wait until October, the environmentalists will have already shouted down the plan.
It appears that city hall is more interested in campaign funding than the sewer backups that poured contaminated water (and in some cases dead rodents) into the homes and businesses of taxpayers.


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