The water bills in the District are making faith leaders, cemetery owners and homeowner association members sick. They are just plain tired of receiving exorbitant water bills not for the amount of water they use but for storm water that runs off their property and into the city’s sewers. It’s a fairly new fee started in 2009 and levied by DC Water to underwrite the estimated $2.6 billion cost needed to clean up pollution in our sewer system and thereby clean up our local rivers. The DC Clean Rivers Project was mandated by a federal district court consent decree which some believe places an unfair burden of repairing and cleaning up an outdated sewer system built by the feds over a century ago on District business owners and residents.
With water bills that have increased over 1,900 percent, faith leaders and cemetery owners have mobilized an effort to appeal to the D.C. Council and DC Water leadership to find a way more equitable way to raise the funds needed to clean our rivers. The rallying call was heard by Craig Muckle, manager for public affairs and policy at the Archdiocese of Washington, who has become the Pied Piper for a resolution to mitigate this problem. “We have a problem; the faith community is overburdened with this by and large and I don’t know anything that has gone up like that in nine years.” He recently told a group of nearly 60 pastors that the fee can hit one person three ways: at their residents, at their business and in the church.
St. Paul’s Rock Creek Parish and Cemetery is one of 14 cemeteries in the District severely feeling the pain. The historic 86-acre cemetery in Northwest, built in the 1700s, has seen its monthly water bill increase from $3,500 prior to 2009 to $19,000 today. Of that only $1,000 is for water and sewer use.
Great accolades have been given to NBC4 News for investigating this issue over the past six months providing the public with periodic updates that led to a council hearing for those impacted to testify, also publicly sharing a warning that these fees are scheduled to increase exponentially in the coming years.
We all want clean rivers and the effort is long overdue for the Anacostia. But we strongly urge the council to follow the lead of Council member Mary Cheh who is looking for a more equitable solution. Continuing to charge these fees will have a deleterious impact on the institutions that have helped to define our great city.