Chairman to Resign After 6 Years

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 23, 2006

The chairman of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority announced his resignation yesterday, timing his departure to coincide with the change of leadership in District government.

Glenn S. Gerstell was appointed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to the authority's board in January 2001 and became its chairman. He agreed to serve another four-year term in the fall of 2004, a turbulent year that began with media reports disclosing excessive lead levels in the city's water. The Environmental Protection Agency later ruled that the authority had violated the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Gerstell admitted that the authority was initially slow in reacting. "There's no question that was a real challenge for us, to all the members of the board," Gerstell said yesterday. "The extent of the problem was indeed a surprise."

Gerstell said he knew he wouldn't serve out the full second term, but he wanted to remain in place for a time to help restore the public's confidence in the agency.

Some had initially called for the ouster of Gerstell and other top officials, given that the authority had known since at least 2002 that high levels of lead had been detected in some homes, but Williams resisted and kept the authority's leadership in place.

Several measures were taken. WASA distributed free water filters and agreed to replace all lead service lines by 2010.

Then the Washington Aqueduct, which supplies the water and is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, added a phosphate chemical to the water supply in an effort to stop lead from leaching from service pipes.

"I think every District resident owes Glenn a debt for his productive term on the board, a period in which WASA continued to make excellent strides forward in terms of modernization, water quality and customer service," Williams said in a written statement.

Gerstell said yesterday that he was happy to report that the lead line replacements are ahead of schedule and that more than 10,000 lines have been replaced so far.

Aside from leading the agency through the lead contamination problem, Gerstell, who is managing partner with the law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, said he took the most pride in making WASA more customer-friendly. When he first joined the board, he suggested that the authority implement automatic payment and allow customers to pay by credit card online.

The measures were put in place quickly.

During his tenure, the agency replaced all water meters in residential buildings with automated electronic meters to improve billing accuracy.

WASA also had its bond rating upgraded to "AA-," which reduces the interest rates it pays on debt and keeps costs lower for customers.

Gerstell said that he will serve until incoming mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who officially takes office Jan. 2, appoints someone to replace him on the WASA board.

Yesterday Fenty thanked Gerstell for his service.

"I applaud his work in helping to restore public confidence in the Authority, but I also appreciate that six years is a long time for a demanding volunteer position," Fenty said in a written statement yesterday.

"At the time I took the position I didn't have a sense of how challenging -- and how rewarding -- it would be," Gerstell said.

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