Storytime with George Hawkins: Lead Scares, Boiled Water Alerts, and DC Water as More Than a Utility
You may have heard by now that the body formerly known as the Water and Sewer Authority has a new look: D.C. Water, signified by a cute little raindrop. But behind the revamped image, has anything actually improved?
General manager George Hawkins made the case to a group of bloggers yesterday that it’s more than just a logo. He opened the evening with emphasis on three elements centric to the character of the new, accessible agency: the ability of a water system to revitalize neighborhoods and rebuild communities, the need to protect environmental resources, and a desire to reach out and engage with customers.
Locals were skeptical. We Love DC's Dave Stroup pointed out that many residents are still likely to associate DC Water with the high lead levels and boiled water warnings of 2003, no matter how much re-branding it does.
Hawkins handled the remarks with ease and grace, sliding into a storyteller's practiced narrative. He explained, in detail, that the lead scare emerged when the federally-run aqueduct in Dalecarlia Reservoir was treated with chloramine, rather than chlorine. The chloramine ate through the a film on the aqueduct's interior, built up by chlorine, that kept out lead. As for the boiled water alerts, DC's water runs on gravity, allowing water to flow down through pipes. There is the risk that contaminated soil can leach into down-running pipes and, though the agency eventually determined there was no risk, it was better to be safe.
Hawkins, noting that lead levels have been safe since 2005, said "We're very confident in the water coming through the system" and that "D.C.'s water standards are about the most stringent in the country."
These tales came out at the right time. There's a potential rate increase on tap later in the year (from $51 to $60 per month on average for a single-family home), and DC Water will need its customer-agency relations to be as warm as possible.
In Hawkins's ideal world, DC Water will become more than a utility in the minds of D.C. residents: "If we're coming to you and saying, 'You know, we really need $10 more a month to make improvements,' you'll be willing to pay not only $10, but $15 or $20 because you'll support what we're doing."