by Andrea Molod
The DC Water board has voted to enact two changes to the Clean River Impervious Area Charge (CRIAC) that will ease the burden on individual homeowners. When fully implemented, the changes will amount to a reduction of homeowner CRIAC fees by up 37%, with an option for an additional 20% discount for any ratepayer who installs green infrastructure. To offset the savings for individual homeowners, there will be an addition to CRIAC fees for those who live in multi-family dwellings that will amount, according to DC Water, to an additional few dollars per month.
The CRIAC is a surcharge imposed on DC residents’ water bills to pay for the $2.7 billion Clean Rivers Project. It consists of two tunnels that hold a mixture of human waste and stormwater, and prevent their overflow into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. This is mandated in the EPA consent decree to improve the water quality of our rivers.
The fees are currently determined by the proportion of impervious surface area on a property. According to DC Water, this is “a fair way to distribute the cost of maintaining storm sewers and protecting area waterways because it is based on a property’s contribution of rainwater to the District’s sewer system.”
However, there has been public outcry over the escalating CRIAC fees and an undue burden they place on individual homeowners and nonprofits, so DC Water (at the request of the DC Council) assembled a stakeholder alliance made up of representatives from all the DC wards, and local business and nonprofit interests. The alliance has been meeting since September 2018, and the main topic of discussion has been the CRIAC fees and other issues related to DC Water bills and costs.
Recommendations made by the DC Water Stakeholder Alliance include:
- The removal of the DC government’s exemption from paying CRIAC fees for its roadways and public rights of way. Estimates from DC Water and from the mayor’s office suggest that this amounts to at least 40% of the impervious surfaces in the District.
- A change in the CRIAC formula that bases the fee on normal water and sewer use, called the “volumetric flow rate,” instead of the proportion of impervious surface. DC Water estimated that approximately 20% of the total combination of storm and sewer water is from customer water and sewer use and thus the fees would recover costs associated with this use.
- A change in the CRIAC formula to increase the allowable discount on the fees for building green water infrastructure (water retention systems) on the property.
- An evaluation of the data being used to estimate impervious surface (such as moving to a NASA satellite-based database), and an evaluation of other factors influencing the contribution to the runoff to be determined by performing modeling studies.
At their meeting April 4th meeting, the DC Water board voted to implement items 2 and 3 of the above list. For item 2, DC Water determined that there is a wide spread in the amount of water and sewer use that contributes to runoff, and so instead of recovering 20% of the fee based on a customer’s water/sewer use, they will phase in by 2022 a recovery of 37% of the fees based on water use. Sixty-seven percent of the fee would still be tied to impervious surface area of the property.
The incorporation of the suggestions of the Stakeholder Alliance into the new DC Water rate and fee structure demonstrates the success of the alliance model, and in particular demonstrates the willingness of DC Water (and the CEO, David Gaddis and the CFO, Matt Brown as driving forces) to accommodate the needs of the community of ratepayers so long as they can recover the funds needed to pay the interest on the bonds floated to cover the costs of the project.
The proposed new rates and fees, including the changes to the CRIAC, were published in the DC Register, and the public comment period is open for 30 days after the April 26th publication date. The board will approve the final FY2020 rate structure at its July 11th meeting, and the new rate structure will take effect on October 1st.
The remaining major change in the CRIAC fees deemed necessary by the Stakeholder Alliance is the removal of the DC Government’s exemption from paying these fees for the public roads and rights of way. This exemption was passed by the Council in 2009 Bill authorizing DC Water to fund the Clean Rivers Program.
The Council needs to legislate such a change. Residents can effect this by communicating with the mayor, members of the DC Council and encouraging their ANCs to pass resolutions in support of using tax revenue for a portion of the CRIAC.
Andrea Molod is ANC 3F05 commissioner and a member of the DC Water Stakeholder Alliance, formed to provide DC Water input on a range of issues.