WSSC To Enjoy Hike in Water Fees

New fee hikes take effect July 1

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. -- You wanted an end to busted water mains.  You're going to have to pay for them.

Water and sewer service fees will go up 9 percent for Prince George's and Montgomery county residents under a new budget local lawmakers approved on Thursday. The budget also provides for the repair of deteriorating underground pipes.

The fee hikes take effect July 1.

Customers of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which serves the two counties, will pay $13.50 more on their quarterly bills, which currently average about $155 for residential customers.

However, just because you're going to pay more doesn't mean old, corroded pipes will be replaced faster.  That's right, WSSC officials said the additional funding won't do much to significantly speed up repairs to the antiquated system -- some pipes date to World War I.   

But they sure are grateful for the extra money.

Officials said $1 million would pay to replace 240 feet of the largest concrete pipe such as the one that burst on River Road in Bethesda in December, forcing firefighters to rescue stranded motorists from a river of water.

"It won't take care of the whole problem, but this budget is a step in the right direction," said Teresa D. Daniell, WSSC's interim general manager.

At current funding rates, WSSC officials say, it would take about 200 years to replace the system's 5,500 miles of water pipes; they typically are designed to last 60 to 100 years.

Members of the county councils in Montgomery and Prince George's counties approved the $961.7 million total budget for fiscal 2010. Lawmakers added $1 million to the utility's initial request for repairs to its biggest high-pressure water mains. Officials say the mains represent the greatest risk to the public, because they can break catastrophically and without warning.

Inspections of those pipes were cut back between fiscal years 2001 and 2006, when rates were frozen or went up by as little as 2 or 3 percent.

The budget called for $4.25 million to check and fix the large concrete pipes and $43.3 million to replace 31 miles of smaller water pipes.

During inspections, workers will continue to install audio equipment that picks up the "ping" of reinforcing steel wires snapping as a pipe begins to weaken.

The 9 percent rate hike also will pay for other maintenance programs, such as corrosion control and leak detection.

The WSSC serves 1.8 million people in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The budget must get formal approval from the WSSC's six-member board of commissioners later this month. That is likely, because board members, who are appointed by each the counties' political leaders, have signed off on the rate increase.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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