City leaders acknowledge ‘rain tax’ burden on churches and nonprofit groups
Feb 28, 2019
As some District of Columbia residents and religious and non-profit groups continue to press the D.C. City Council for assistance in addressing the Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge (CRIAC) portion of their water bills, they vowed to keep working to find a solution.
“I will continue to work with DC Water on finding new ways to more equitably fund its Clean Rivers Project,” Craig Muckle, manager of public policy for the Archdiocese of Washington, told city lawmakers Feb. 26. “As you know, there are no silver bullets to effectively resolve this incredibly complicated matter, but we are resolute in our efforts to identify potential solutions.”
CRIAC – popularly called a “rain tax” – is a fee tacked onto District water and sewer bills based on the area of impervious surface on a property. An impervious surface is defined as one through which rainfall or surface water cannot flow. Such surfaces include asphalt, concrete, buildings and other covered areas, patios, tennis courts, driveways, swimming pools, parking lots and the like. When storm water hits impervious surfaces, it collects pollutants such as oil, sediment, or trash before flowing into sewers and eventually waterways.
Money collected through CRIAC is earmarked to fund the $2.7 billion federally mandated Clean Rivers Project designed to protect the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers and Rock Creek. The project – which began in 2009, and is expected to be completed by 2030 – includes a system of underground tunnels that will capture and clean wastewater during rainfalls before it ever reaches rivers.
Muckle was among several who testified before the D.C. City Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, which held a public hearing on the CRIAC portion of D.C. water bills.
He urged lawmakers “to implore DC Water to continue their engagement by investigating all options (in mitigating CRIAC fare increases) presented from any interested parties … as no stone should be left unturned.”
The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, popularly called DC Water, is independent from the City Council. It develops its own budget, which along with the overall District of Columbia budget, is presented annually to Congress for approval.
DC Water in 2017 proposed a steep increase in the city’s Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge. Individuals and groups opposing CRIAC fare increases said the rate increases are placing an unfair burden on them. Religious groups said that the increase would limit what social services churches could offer to residents who are most in need in the District.
Testifying last year before the City Council, which was then debating CRIAC rates, Muckle said that “religious groups are not against paying their fair share of the Clean Rivers Project, but they should not have an unfair burden placed on them because “our parishes are supported solely via tithes and offerings that are provided by congregants.”
He said while District parishes “provide valuable community and social services” to their neighborhoods, “the astronomical fees being paid to DC Water limit our ability to support the city’s social services network in the areas where they are needed most.”
District of Columbia officials last year offered a $13 million financial relief package to assist religious and non-profit groups and the poor who had difficulty in paying CRIAC portion of their water bills.
At that time, Muckle said that the amount “severely underestimated the amount of relief necessary” and since the program was budgeted for only one fiscal year, it did not offer continued or long-term relief for qualifying entities.
Speaking to lawmakers Feb. 27, Muckle praised the formation of the DC Water Stakeholder Alliance.
Created last September, the 19-member Stakeholder Alliance is a group of city residents and representatives of organizations who provide input to the DC Water general manager on a variety of issues including CRIAC. Muckle is a member of that alliance.
He said creation of the panel “is definitely a step in the right direction” and that “it appears we (the alliance and DC Water) are moving toward a mutual understanding and hope to begin working on achieving some meaningful goals in the immediate future.”
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the committee that held the hearing, conceded that the water bill CRIAC fee “has significantly burdened some customers.”Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, a member of the committee, also noted that the fee “places an incredible burden on our churches.”
Cheh said she would urge DC Water to explain “who pays the (CRIAC) fee, what is the formula for paying and how they apportion the CRIAC fee.”
“There is quite seriously a problem, and we appreciate that,” Cheh said. “We are trying to figure a way out of it.”
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