Keeping the costs of essential products and services affordable is a challenge for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA).

Beginning last month, monthly bills for WASA's retail water and sewer customers rose 5.5 percent. This modest increase was consistent with the board's policy of raising rates on a gradual and predictable basis to fund about $4 billion in infrastructure improvements. The agency's capital investment projects include:

* More than $2.1 billion on capital improvements at Blue Plains and in District neighborhoods during the next 10 years.

* More than $300 million committed to replacing lead service lines in public areas during the next six years.

* More than $1.9 billion in the next 20 years to control combined sewer overflows in District rivers, principally in the Anacostia River.

Congress has provided $84 million for the sewer overflows project. Without additional federal funding, the burden of paying for this and other projects falls on WASA customers.

While WASA continues to pursue additional funds for its huge and expanding capital improvement program, its prudent financial policies are keeping operating costs and the costs of providing services manageable. WASA's independent financial system, budget policies and decision making represent a model of multi-jurisdictional cooperation in managing one of the nation's largest regional water and sewer service providers. For the benefit of its customers, the WASA board and management are determined to retain the critical ability to independently manage the authority's financial resources.

JERRY N. JOHNSON

General Manager

D.C. Water and Sewer Authority

Washington