Councilmember’s Corner: Granting relief to cemeteries inundated by DC Water fees

The gates of Rock Creek Church Cemetery, with the parish visible in the distance.

by Brandon Todd

Over the past few months, the issue of water fees has been top of mind for Ward 4 residents. Many of you have seen a spike in your water bills, with a number of fees accounting for the lion’s share of the increase. One fee in particular, the Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge (CRIAC), has garnered quite a bit of attention.

The CRIAC is implemented by DC Water to finance the Federally-mandated Clean Rivers Project – an extensive infrastructure network designed to reduce the amount of Combined Sewer Overflows into our waterways by 96%. It attempts to charge District property owners for their individual contributions to stormwater management and fund a much-needed project that will undoubtedly yield enormous water quality benefits.

However, as recently documented by NBC 4’s Investigative Team, CRIAC’s burden unintentionally falls disproportionately on some institutions who are unable to cope with the crushing fees.

In Petworth, St. Paul’s Rock Creek Church Cemetery is one such institution.

As CRIAC fees continued to increase, St. Paul’s saw their annual water bill balloon from approximately $3,500 to $200,000. That is unsustainable. Something needs to be done to grant relief to St. Paul’s and the 17 other cemeteries like it across the District, otherwise they will be forced to close their gates, which no one wants to see.

St. Paul’s Rock Creek Church Cemetery is an invaluable historical resource, with four Supreme Court Justices and a signer of the Constitution buried there. Were it to shut down, Petworth, Ward 4, and the District of Columbia would lose a rich part of our heritage, and the vacant site would surely become a burden to the neighborhood.

Rock Creek Church Cemetery

That is why, this past Tuesday, I introduced the D.C. Cemetery Private Road and Parking Lot Exemption of Clean Water Fees Amendment Act of 2017. This narrowly-tailored legislation would only exempt private roads and parking lots in District cemeteries from being included in DC Water’s CRIAC calculations. Cemeteries would still contribute funds to the Clean Rivers Project for impervious surfaces such as their office buildings. But the fees would be sustainable, in keeping with the narrow margins of cemeteries.  

I understand that the Clean River Project must be completed, and reducing the funds that cemeteries contribute leaves a hole that must be filled. It wouldn’t be fair to push those costs on to other ratepayers. That is why I am calling on the DC Government to make up the difference. Preliminary fiscal impact analysis shows that the Government could easily accommodate the cost. Cumulatively, cemeteries pay about $600,000 per year in CRIAC fees. Since my bill only calls for partially reducing that, the fiscal impact would be less than $3 million over five years.

I was proud to introduce this bill as part of a larger conversation about how the District can meet its water quality infrastructure needs in the most fair and equitable way possible. I look forward to working with the DC Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment, DC Water, and other stakeholders on moving this bill forward as quickly and thoughtfully as possible. St. Paul’s Rock Creek Church can’t wait much longer.

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