An influential leader in the water utility space is stepping down.
George Hawkins, CEO and general manager of DC Water, is resigning, effective at the end of the year, NBC Washington reported. Hawkins joined DC Water in 2009. His tenure as chief executive of nonprofits and government agencies spanned two decades.
“I am stepping back from a day-to-day role at a water utility, but I’m as committed as ever to the future of the water sector. I will continue to coach future leaders and provide guidance to fellow executives who want to do as we did at DC Water: connect with customers, build a world-class team, drive a relentless focus on innovation, and achieve the financial security to upgrade infrastructure for future generations,” Hawkins said in a statement.
Nicholas Majett, vice chair of the DC Water board of directors, praised Hawkins for his "extraordinary service."
Hawkins raised awareness about the financial difficulties of water utilities during his tenure at the helm of DC Water. In a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg BNA, he discussed flaws in the funding system for water delivery.
“The financial system was set up when all we were charging customers for a system that’s already in the ground but not the capital cost of replacing it,” he said.
“Most of the big water and sewer lines in Washington, DC, were put in place before anyone who is currently here was here. So it was paid for back then. Here, the budget that has come due is not only the continued operating costs, but now I’ve got to replace capital costs. That’s not in the rate structure, that’s not in the revenue base, and the customers ... aren’t used to paying that much,” he continued.
Another source of financial pressure on water utilities: Ratepayers don’t realize “what a miracle of modern civilization it is” when they drink tap water, Hawkins said.
“Customers don’t know us,” he said, noting that this makes ratepayers resistant to paying for infrastructure upgrades. “What customer wants to pay more money for something that they don’t know?”
Hawkins discussed the difficulty of affording smart meters in a separate interview with Bloomberg BNA.
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Image credit: "Cherry Washington Monument," Tom Finzel © 2013, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/