DC Water has been in hot water this year with issues surrounding meter replacements and with extremely high IAC fees (Impervious Area Charge). Residents and area cemeteries and churches are seeing high bills, and have not been getting the best customer service from the utility. Even the DC Council is getting involved.
To help provide a path forward and communication, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4D held a "Water Forum" in late October with residents and representatives from DC Water and the DC Committee on Transportation and the Environment. There were many new revelations concerning how DC Water retroactively charged residents and survey results from attendees.
Here are the notes from Commissioner Amy Hemingway:
On behalf of my ANC 4D colleagues, I want to share a summary and transcript of the Water Forum we hosted on Tuesday, October 24. The forum was in response to residents’ concerns about water bills and meters throughout the city and flooding and drainage in certain areas throughout 4D.
Download and view a PDF of the meeting notes - they're worth reading.
We are pleased to share the transcript of the forum as well as the topline results of an attendee survey. Within the results you will find a surprising revelation that DC Water “determined” in an “internal discussion” to retroactively charge people for three months of prior water usage. The broader context is the water meter change out and the fact that bills had previously been estimated. DC Water representatives suggested this did not need board approval nor did they inform customers of this decision. The lack of oversight and transparency is concerning. Data would be very helpful to determine the extent of the issue and the impact throughout the city as would an exploration of your Committee’s authority over DC Water. Additional points of interest include:
High Water Bills
Beyond the retroactive charges accounting for bill spikes, District residents are paying more in fees than for actual water/sewer usage. Meanwhile, the Impervious Area Charge (IAC) is incurred even when runoff has been mitigated – moreover, the faith community and churches in particular are being hit hard with the IAC and are not being heard. There are concerns for elderly and low-income residents' ability to pay. And generally, there is difficulty understanding water bills.
Inadequate DC Water Oversight
Regardless of how far and wide the retroactive charging goes, DC Water lacks oversight. Residents specifically called for an oversight body. Most frequently mentioned oversight bodies were the D.C. Council, the Office of the People's Council and the Public Service Commission. Also, there is a potential conflict of interest given the head of DOEE is the also the head of DC Water’s board of directors.
Poor DC Water Customer Service
A general lack of timely response from DC Water was a common complaint as well accessibility. The difficulty of going through the appeals process and lack of fairness was the center of this issue. There is a lack of transparency regarding how many appeals are taken, how many rate payers actually win their cases, and whether they are fully reimbursed.
Flooding and Storm Sewer/Catch Basin Clearing
DC Water lacks capacity to handle emergencies during heavy rains. Residents reported the lack of emergency teams available during storms to clear storm drains and assist residents, and the failure to do preventative storm drain clearing ahead of storms. Sewage backflow into basements/toilets is also a notable problem.
Note that we deliberately did not address lead in water because of the enormity of the topic, but are very interested in developments related to residential lead issues, including the cost to replace pipes leading to homes; as well as lead in schools and related mitigation strategies undertaken through the Department of General Services.
We hope you find this information useful. For more information about the forum, please contact Commissioner Amy Hemingway, (202) 750-4012, 4D06@anc.dc.gov.