- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) says that an estimated 23,000 of its estimated 130,000 service lines contain lead. With more than 4,000 D.C. homes having tested with unsafe lead levels in October 2003, several agencies are now scrambling to find the source of the problem, develop solutions to the problem and find money to fix the problem. Now comes a lawmaker who, up for re-election, wants taxpayers to foot the entire cost of replacing lead-lined water pipes. Mayor Tony Williams and D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp must stand firm against Council member Harold Brazil’s election-year ploy and say this: Homeowners’ property, homeowners’ pipes, homeowners’ problem.

Mr. Brazil wants the city to create a capital improvement plan specifically for replacing lead pipes on private property. Again, an estimated 23,000 pipes need replacing in private homes. The estimated cost, he claims, is $2,000 per home, totaling estimated $46 million. “People should not have to bear the costs of that replacement,” Mr. Brazil said on Monday. We beg to differ.

First of all, the city does not pay for repairs to any other utilities. Second, that 23,000 is a mere estimate. Third, that $2,000 figure is an estimate as well, for several reasons. Chief among those reasons is the fact that all homes and front yards are not equal. While many homes have no front yards or porches — like many rowhouses on Capitol Hill and other older D.C. neighborhoods — many, many others do. And what about the homeowners’ landscaping and fencing? Will that be replaced, too? We doubt that $2,000 estimate takes any of those factors into account.

Moreover, neither local nor federal officials knows the precise extent of the lead contamination problem. Residents continue to test their own water for lead levels. Are they taking accurate tests? Or are authorities taking them at their word — and estimating, yet again, the extent of the problem?

We fully appreciate Mr. Brazil perking up this election cycle. However, D.C. residents don’t need him piping in on this potential public health problem and trying to create a costly entitlement where none is needed. If Mr. Brazil wants to be helpful (particularly to his longstanding Capitol Hill constituents), then he should join the task force that is searching for solutions to our water worries — not add to the problem.

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