Are you having a hard time paying your DC Water bill? Testify at DC Water’s public hearing about the expanded financial assistance program Tuesday, October 30 at 6:30 pm at the Department of Employment Services (4058 Minnesota Ave, NE). To speak, email Linda R. Manley, Secretary to the Board, firstname.lastname@example.org or call (202) 787-2332. Those not able to attend the event have until November 29 to submit their views in writing (email Linda R. Manley, Secretary to the Board, email@example.com or mail to 5000 Overlook Ave, SW, Washington, DC 20032).
The Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge (CRIAC) funds needed upgrades to DC Water systems, protecting DC residents from sewage overflows. APACC has supported community voices raising equity concerns about the CRIAC, and agrees that maintaining this critical funding source requires addressing equity issues. In response to public concern the Council of DC funded a financial assistance program as an initial step.
The $13 million program, funded jointly by DC Water and the District government, originated last spring with efforts to assist customers who are struggling the most with paying their Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge, or CRIAC charge, which funds the cleanup of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and Rock Creek.
This expanded assistance program, supported by Mayor Muriel Bowser and the DC Council as part of the recent budget agreement, expands the current DC Water Customer Assistance Program (CAP) to offer discounts to households for CRIAC and water and sewer costs. These programs were expanded to include a scaled level of support for a broader population of customer up to 100% of area median income.
The new customer assistance programs are intended to provide relief for just one fiscal year, beginning on October 1, 2018 and running through September 30, 2019.
Under the terms of the planned relief that grew out of the DC Council legislation funding the program, non-profits must show that their current CRIAC charges amount to at least 5 percent of revenue after expenses – using their tax documents filed in the past year as proof of need. They also may qualify if they can show that they are trying to mitigate stormwater runoff. Cemeteries and religious organizations meet a lower threshold to qualify.
Individual customers with household incomes up to $117,000 a year can qualify for the assistance. That assistance is aimed at individuals whose incomes make them ineligible for the current Customer Assistance Program at DC Water. Eligibility for the expanded CAP program and the non-profit relief program will be determined by the District Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE).
The assistance programs for both non-profits and individuals will be finalized this winter following the public hearing and publication of the proposals. Then the credits will be applied to eligible customers retroactively to October 2018.
Why additional financial assistance is necessary
The Brookings Institution’s Carol O’Cleireacain in Cleaner Rivers for the National Capital Region: Sharing the Cost described the problem the Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge is addressing:
The nation’s capital, like other older American cities, is partially served by a combined sewer system (CSS) in which pipes carry both storm water and sewage or waste water. In dry weather, waste water flows to the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant at the southern tip of the District along the Potomac River. After heavy rains, however, the capacity of the combined sewer is often exceeded, and a mixture of sewage and storm water—combined sewer overflows (CSOs)—discharges into the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and Rock Creek, leading ultimately to downstream destinations, including the Chesapeake Bay.
Speaking to the burden of utility bills generally, O’Cleireacain explained that “on average, utility payments represent 6 to 7 percent of household spending.” This share increases dramatically for low-income households. “Compared to households with average incomes, those in the lowest quintile [20%] pay 45 percent more of their income towards utilities.”
The DC Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment held a hearing May 22, 2017 to hear from the public about the CRIAC. DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice’s Danielle Burs was one witness. She mentioned two important ideas. The first is the tension between environmental goals and the economics of the charge to individuals and small churches and cemeteries. The second is the data gap which prevented DOEE and DC Water from having a clear picture of how the water rate increase would impact some low-income households. Burs wrote, “many households with low incomes reside in buildings where there is no individual metering, so DC Water doesn’t have the kind of information about them necessary to provide interventions.”
DC deserves clean water
The challenges associated with the CRIAC do not in any way negate the threat to the environment locally and regionally by DC’s historical failure to reduce sewage and runoff.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency,
DC Water violated Sections 301, 402 and 504 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and terms and conditions of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. DC Water’s alleged violations include frequent discharges of raw sewage, industrial waste, nutrients, and storm water discharges (i.e. combined sewer overflows (CSOs)) to District of Columbia waterways, including the Anacostia River, the Potomac River and Rock Creek (and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay watershed), and operation and maintenance failures that have resulted in combined sewer overflows.
Since 2005, DC Water and DC government have planned and implemented changes which address the various violations. Tunnel boring machines, such as Chris and Nannie, and the CRIAC may be the most attention-getting. But other fixes are also important. Most recently, DC Water sought to incorporate green infrastructure into their long-term strategy and that has been integrated into the updated consent decree.
Learn more about the efforts from DC Water online: Clean Rivers Project.