- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Karen DeWitt, director of public affairs with the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, is endeavoring to resolve the torment of Mr. Chris, whose two-year battle with the public utility was highlighted in this space last week.

Mr. Chris, who lives in a Victorian row house on Vermont Avenue NW, has been protesting his bills the past two years after WASA installed automated meters in his Logan Circle neighborhood and his bills more than tripled.

Since then, Mr. Chris has fallen into the bureaucratic abyss of telephone conversations, e-mail exchanges, letters and hearings, with no resolution in sight. His dispute with WASA has resulted in more than $3,000 in unpaid charges in two years, although he sends what he calls “earnest money” to the public utility each month.

Ms. DeWitt, who is new to her post, is all too aware of the complaints that have come with the installation of the new meters.

In some cases, a dramatic spike in a customer’s bill merely reflected the inefficiency of the previous meters. In other cases, the new meter was improperly positioned and released inaccurate readings. In still other instances, a startling surge in a bill revealed a leak in the pipe that runs from a residence to the main water line underneath the street.

Ms. DeWitt, in responding to the pain of Mr. Chris, wants him to know that he has nothing to fear from WASA.

“I understand his frustration, and I sympathize with him,” Ms. DeWitt said by telephone yesterday.

Ms. DeWitt said WASA will be sending an inspector to the home of Mr. Chris to do an underground check on the pipe that leads from his premises to the main water line.

“The underground check will happen soon, because it is a priority,” Ms. DeWitt said. “I want the public to know that we are an open and friendly public utility. We are all in this together.” Of course, until now, Mr. Chris has questioned the openness and friendliness of the public utility after donating a piece of who he is to the fight the past two years. His has been the fight of the little guy, armed with only an ever-burgeoning file, going against a public utility.

Now, finally, with Ms. DeWitt on the case, Mr. Chris is hoping that this is the beginning of the end of his frustrating ordeal.

He just wants a water bill that commands perhaps five minutes of his time each month. He just wants a bureaucracy that does not traffic in mystery and a slow-working mediator by the name of Samuel Sharpe. He just wants to be out of the clutches of the bureaucratic beast and the threat of Cleveland Ray, the camera-toting city inspector who is ever on the prowl for an unkempt blade of grass.

Ms. DeWitt, a pleasant official with a can-do spirit, took time out from an Environmental Protection Agency conference in Philadelphia to address the previously intractable issue of Mr. Chris.

She pointed out that a leak was found on his premises last year, in one of his bathrooms. Mr. Chris concurred with the findings of the inspector and promptly shut off the valve that controlled the water to the offending commode.

Yet Mr. Chris saw no appreciable drop in his bills during that period.

It was his contention that the high-tech meter was the source of his consternation.

It was a contention that led to a maze of confusion, anxiety and the pushing of paper. It was a contention that cost him time, money and heartache.

Ms. DeWitt suspects the problem is not with the meter but with a leak in the pipe that leads from his premises.

“His meter is registering 1,000 gallons a day,” Ms. DeWitt said. “There is obviously a problem, something that could be going on between his house and the meter.” Whatever the problem is, Ms. DeWitt and WASA plan to find it and free Mr. Chris from his benumbing odyssey.

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