She will lead WSSC Water at a time when it, like many U.S. water utilities, is grappling with aging infrastructure, including bursting water pipes and sewer system overflows. As Maryland’s largest water utility, WSSC Water provides water and sewer services for 1.9 million people in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Powell will replace General Manager Carla A. Reid, whose contract was not renewed this summer amid scrutiny of a 3-year-old billing system that has tripled in cost — from $40 million to $120 million — and has been blamed for long customer call hold times. The recent upheaval also has included a top IT contract employee who was terminated after raising concerns and a board member who was pushed out after he pressed utility leaders about the system’s procurement and soaring costs.
Reid, who has led the utility since 2016, recently called WSSC Water “an organization in crisis.”
In a statement, Powell said, “I’m incredibly honored to have the trust of the [WSSC Water] commissioners and am excited to lead this world class utility in our efforts to continue investments in critical infrastructure, improving service delivery and pursuing equity for the communities we serve.”
Powell, along with other current and former leaders of Jackson’s water utility, was named in a recent lawsuit by a group of Jackson residents alleging that the city’s water-safety problems this past summer resulted from decades of neglect. Much of the city lost water for days, and residents were told to boil water for more than a month after the city’s main water treatment plant failed. The lawsuit also claims top officials ignored elevated lead levels and other safety problems in drinking water.
Powell served as Jackson’s public works director before mid-2016, when she became commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management, according to her D.C. Water bio.
She did not respond Monday to a request for comment on the lawsuit’s allegations.
WSSC Water’s six-member board of commissioners approved Powell unanimously after a nationwide search, the utility said.
“We are confident that Ms. Powell’s extensive prior experiences provide her with well-rounded leadership skills that will benefit WSSC Water customers for years to come,” Commission Vice Chair Regina Y. Speed-Bost said in a news release.
Powell, who lives in Bowie, Md., will start Jan. 1. A WSSC Water spokesman said Powell’s salary had not been finalized.
Transportation, commuting and the pandemic
Transit violence: Metro worker killed trying to stop gunman shooting at commuters
Infrastructure: Why Biden visited a 150-year-old tunnel in Baltimore