While some D.C. residents are struggling to pay skyrocketing water fees, the News4 I-Team found the District government would be paying 10 times more if DC Water calculated the government's rates the same way it does for residents.
Those fees are part of the Clean Rivers program, which charges every D.C. resident based on the square footage of their property that's impervious, meaning it could add to the District's stormwater runoff problem.
A huge portion of those fees comes from private sidewalks, roadways and parking areas. But back when DC Water created the fee a decade ago, it decided to exempt thousands of miles of public roads, sidewalks and alleys from the calculation.
DC Water has to raise $2.6 billion for the program. So, every time someone pays less, everyone else is forced to pay more.
I-Team DC Would Pay More in Water Fees if Billed as Homes
What almost no one realized was that DC Water agreed to cut the district and federal governments that break on their fees without bothering to figure out how much that would cost all of the utility's other customers.
The News4 I-Team did the math. D.C. government only paid about $8 million toward this fee last year.
If all of Washington D.C.'s roads and sidewalks counted, the District would have to pay another $80 million per year, according to Department of Energy and Environment records obtained by the I-Team.
If the federally-owned roads and sidewalks that are currently exempted were included, DC Water is missing out on a total of $84 million a year.
Since the fee started in 2009, the District and federal governments have only been paying the fee based on the square footage of their buildings and walkways on their government-owned property. But thousands of miles of public roads and sidewalks in the right of way haven't been counted.
That's particularly upsetting to the thousands of residents who are being forced to pay those fees for private roads and sidewalks on their property.
Some homeowners associations told the I-Team they're already paying tens of thousands of dollars a year, and with the fees growing exponentially every year, it could bankrupt them.
"The city is all of us, and one way or another you're going to pay for it," said water customer Allen Holland, "But there should be some mechanism to have the city pay its fair share. Everyone should pay their fair share who's using the roads and causing the runoff."
So far, at least three advisory neighborhood commissions have passed resolutions expressing concern about the high water fees and written letters to council members urging them to do something to make the fee structure more fair. Most homeonwers pay about $300 a year.
"At the end of the day, I think the pain level is important but so is just transparency and oversight and residents being confident that people are looking out for them," said ANC Commissioner Amy Hemingway.
Councilwoman Mary Cheh held a public hearing and listened to residents' concerns for hours. She's asked DC Water to investigate ways to make its fee structure more fair.
Cheh told the I-Team she's also examining whether the district government could somehow pay more of its fair share to offset the burden for residents.