WSSC: Performance and Accountability Problems

After the big break in the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission water main in Derwood, there’s been a lot of concern over the failures in the county’s emergency notification system.  Not only were there technological problems, but apparently the only two people able to set the notification system in operation were both on vacation at the same time.  (You can’t make this stuff up).   As a result, notification of health issues and the boil-water order were delayed.  Residents are up in arms, and the County Council and the County Executive are promising to look into the situation.

But it seems like no one is paying attention to the other issue here: the integrity of the piping and the rest of the infrastructure that provides water to our taps.  We’ve had a number of water main breaks in the County in the past couple of years, and the problem has largely been attributed to aging pipes, and insufficient attention paid to maintenance and replacement.   WSSC has budgeted to replace 27 miles of pipeline in each of 2007 and 2008.  However, they’ve only replaced 16 miles in 2007, and they are scheduled to replace only 25 in 2008.  (Anybody want to bet on how much actually gets replaced this year?)

What’s the problem?  Is there an issue with management, or planning, or how they handle revenues from users? We won’t really know, because WSSC has refused to allow an audit by the Montgomery County inspector general. There are questions about WSSC’s performance, and they are stonewalling against measures to gain accountability.

It’s time to take a good, hard look at the advantages of privatizing the water utility.

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