- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority is proposing a series of retail rate increases that would mean a customer on average can expect to pay nearly $100 more in 2008 compared with 2005, according to financial projections.

For a typical WASA customer, the authority’s proposed 2008 budget of $341.2 million would mean annual water and sewer charges totaling $624.96, compared with the average bill of $525.96 in fiscal 2005, according to budget figures.

WASA also has proposed an 8.5 percent rate increase in 2009 followed by 9.5 percent increases each in 2010 and 2011.

“It’s a very conservative estimate,” WASA spokeswoman Michele Quander-Collins said of the projections.

She said several factors could result in less-drastic increases, including additional federal funds and the use of rate-stabilization funds.

Miss Quander-Collins said WASA is proposing the rate increases in large part to help fund its $2.2 billion, 10-year capital improvement plan. She said the plan includes major upgrades to the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.

She said some of the capital improvement costs are being spent to comply with various federal regulations, including the Clean Water Act.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, chairman of the council’s Committee on Public Works and the Environment, which has oversight over WASA, said WASA officials have not briefed him on the proposed rate increase.

“After that, I’ll know whether there is justification for it,” the Ward 1 Democrat said.

However, Mr. Graham noted that the WASA board of directors, not the council, sets rates.

WASA, which also is proposing rate increases of at least 8 percent each year through 2013, is a quasipublic agency run by an 11-member board of directors.

Six members are appointed by the D.C. government. Of the other five members, two each are nominated by officials from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and one comes from Fairfax County.

The proposed rate increase was published last week in the D.C. Register, the District’s legal publication giving public notice about proposed rules and laws.

According to the notice, WASA has planned a public hearing on the rate increase, though a date hasn’t been set.

WASA’s aged water pipes came under scrutiny two years ago when authorities discovered high levels of lead in the city’s water supply. Since then, WASA has been replacing pipes throughout the District.

The state of the city’s sewer system also surfaced as an area of concern in a recent draft report by the National Capital Planning Commission.

The report found that the District is “highly susceptible” to flooding because of its low-lying location as well as its “inadequate storm sewer capacity.”

During a meeting of WASA’s retail rates committee last month, Olu Adebo, acting chief financial officer for WASA, said the “key driver” behind the proposed rate increase was WASA’s capital improvement obligations.

He also warned of a cash shortfall of about $29.2 million for fiscal 2008.

To close the gap, WASA is proposing to draw down one-time revenues of $17.8 million from its rate-stabilization fund. In addition, the proposed 7.5 percent rate increase would generate $11.2 million in revenue, Mr. Adebo said.

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