Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) questioned DC Water General Manager George Hawkins at today's Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment hearing as she works with DC Water and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DC Water to continue to eliminate contaminants from the city's rivers, which provide drinking water for the region, while reducing escalating water bills from mandates in the Clean Water Act. Hawkins testified that during his four years leading DC Water, water and sewer bills had risen 50%. D.C.'s current investment in a $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project, required by the EPA, to address combined sewer overflows into Rock Creek and the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, is coming largely from business and residential ratepayers, in the form of higher water and sewer bills. Last Congress, Norton got a law enacted requiring the federal government, the largest ratepayer, to pay a fee associated with storm water runoff after the Government Accountability Office declared the fee to be a tax and exempted the government from paying. Without this change, D.C. water bills would already show larger increases. Norton wanted to know what actions could be taken to reduce the burden on ratepayers. EPA regulations require the District to undertake other projects as well, costing several billions of dollars, before performing critical upgrades to the city's infrastructure, which was built during the Civil War. "Recent storms produced flooding in Bloomingdale and other D.C. neighborhoods, and other incidents of broken water mains and sewer backups show the need to maintain and improve the basic water infrastructure that is critical to the health and public safety of District residents and visitors," Norton said. "However, current water bill increases are unsustainable. The balance the EPA is showing is gratifying to those of us seeking to reconcile both water quality and soaring costs."
Norton has strongly urged the EPA to approve DC Water's request for a storm water overflow pilot project, which would allow green technology, instead of some of the large tunnels being constructed, to reduce storm water overflow.