WASHINGTON – Suburban officials said Wednesday they remain concerned about the District’s control of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, even though the agency has done a good job of keeping the District’s water safe over the last year.
“WASA has adopted personnel regulations which, in our view, still parallel too closely those used by the District of Columbia,” said Michael Errico, deputy chief administrative officer for Prince George’s County.
“Although they begin to move away from the `business as usual’ personnel format, they are still far removed from the kind of flexible and goal-oriented regulations envisioned for the new authority,” he said in testimony to the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on the District.
The 11-member authority was created by Congress last year after unacceptable levels of coliform bacteria were detected in the city’s water system for three months in a row. WASA includes five representatives from Montgomery, Prince George’s and Fairfax counties.
Montgomery and Prince George’s contribute 40 percent of the authority’s operating costs and 49 percent of its capital costs through the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Prince George’s County sends 47 million gallons of sewage to the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant in the District every day, Errico said.
“The county council and I continue to see the need to establish an independent, interstate authority for WASA,” similar to the one that runs the Metro system, said Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan.
He said independent control is especially important because WASA plans to sell bonds next year for capital improvement projects. He said the market will look more favorably upon WASA if it is in independent hands and not in those of the District.
Errico echoed Duncan’s sentiments, saying Prince George’s County officials “remain concerned that the District government retains legal responsibility.” He said another concern is that the authority’s budget currently has to undergo the same review as the city’s budget.
Currently, the D.C. city council, mayor, chief financial officer, financial control board and Congress all have a say in WASA matters because the authority is considered an agency of the District.
Subcommittee member Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who is normally protective of the District’s rights, said she has “zero tolerance for the District’s regulatory scene.”
“I’m not going to defend the indefensible,” Norton said about the previous management of the District’s water systems.
Michael McCabe, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, stressed the success the authority has had in keeping the District’s water safe, but listed his own concerns.
Among these, McCabe called for a commitment to preventive maintenance of the city’s older systems, some of which date back to the Civil War era.