Thursday, February 5, 2009

New Approach Needed for WSSC

Last week the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) set a new record with 611 breaks and leaks in January. Granted, it was an especially cold month, but there’s more to the problem than just a few degrees.

We learned at the January 27th briefing by the WSSC that the agency’s commissioners are unable to work together and remain stalemated on important issues such as the appointment of a general manager. I was appalled to learn that after two of the costliest and most dangerous water main breaks in the agency’s history, the Commission has yet to have any conversation about the causes, let alone an action plan for the future. These failures are placing public health and safety at risk.

The WSSC is a state-chartered agency that provides public water and sewer services to 1.8 million residents of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. It is governed by three commissioners from each county, appointed by the respective county executives. The two county councils jointly approve the annual WSSC budget.

I have nothing but respect for the Montgomery County commissioners and the agency’s hard-working employees, but modest legislative fixes will not do the job. I urge the General Assembly to replace the current structure with one that can act quickly on matters of public health and safety. It is time to eliminate the ongoing political manipulation. I propose that we break the logjam with legislation to add three commissioners to be appointed by the Governor. All three must meet strict professional qualifications, and none could be a resident of either county. This is something we could do immediately. It’s time—it’s way past time—to fix WSSC.

On December 23, a 66-inch concrete pipe water main broke near River Road. Although there were no major injuries resulting from the break, 15 motorists and passengers had to be rescued from the flooding via swift water boats and by helicopter.

In January, a break in a 42-inch main caused a three-day boil water advisory for 90,000 homes and businesses in Prince George’s County. Other major disruptions have occurred in recent years. In fact, the WSSC experienced 1,709 water main breaks and leaks in 2008, its fifth worst year since 1984. In 2007, the WSSC set a new record for water main breaks with 2,129.

In my six years as a Councilmember and chair of the committee charged with overseeing WSSC, I’ve tried to work within the system to make improvements. But I am now convinced that we must start anew and construct a different kind of WSSC.

1 comment:

Nuggett said...

Appalling? How's this for appalling?

The WSSC has an "acting" General Manager, an "acting" Deputy G.M., "acting" Chief of Customer Care, "acting" Chief Information Officer, "acting" Cheif of Plant Operations, "acting" Director of Acquisitions and many in lower management positions that are "acting".

How can anything positive get started with all the upper managers in acting positions? No one wants to hire anyone because they may hire themselves out of a job. WSSC needs a General Manager who can hire his/her own staff and get the Commission moving in some kind of direction.