Mayor Calls Clean Rivers Fee ‘Overly Burdensome,' Asks DC Water to Lower Bills

Relief could be on the way for hundreds of thousands of DC Water customers plagued by skyrocketing fees — if the utility abides by new recommendations from Washington, D.C.'s mayor.

Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a letter to the head of DC Water and its board Thursday asking them to freeze water and sewer rates for at least three years. (Read the letter at the end of this article.)

That would have a huge impact on everyone in the District because DC Water has already proposed raising sewer rates by 13 percent later this year.

"I urge DC Water to take the following actions in the near future to mitigate the burden these high rates place on District residents," Bowser wrote in the letter obtained by the News4 I-Team.

The move follows a series of I-Team investigations which raised questions about the skyrocketing Clean Rivers fee, which has increased by more than 600 percent since 2011.

Bowser has included $6 million in her proposed budget to fund a hardship program that would help non-profits and others who can't afford to pay their water bills.

She has asked DC Water to match that money, for a total of $12 million, and wants the utility to provide that funding in future years as well.

"We are asking you to identify resources for this fund in a way that will ensure that the costs of this proposal will not be passed along to ratepayers in other ways and are committed to working with the Board and DC Water leadership on sustainable solutions," wrote Bowser.

Last fall, the I-Team exposed how churches, cemeteries and other non-profits were struggling- some even threatening to close or cut programs as a result of the growing Clean Rivers fee.

The money is funding a $2.7 billion tunnel project to keep sewage from contaminating our rivers. It's part of a consent decree mandated by the federal government, however the cost for the project is mainly borne by the District's customers.

The mayor is also suggesting DC Water look at refinancing the debt for the project, and explore other options to lessen the impact the Clean Rivers fee is having on customers.

"I look forward to hearing what actions DC Water will take and to working closely with you on this issue," wrote Bowser.

The utility is technically independent from the Washington, D.C., government, and its rates are set by its own board.

The I-Team reached out to DC Water to ask what the utility plans to do with the mayor's recommendations.

Interim CEO Henderson Brown sent a statement saying, "We appreciate the letter, and the opportunity to work with Mayor Bowser and the District on this important issue."

He did not offer any thoughts on what she recommended. Read the entire statement here.

Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited Jeff Piper.

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