But the plan, buried in a few short lines in a budget proposal of more than 1,200 pages, may lead to a different outcome. Some officials in the District want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the aqueduct, instead to turn over the facility to D.C. Water, a public utility.
In that case, water rates would not increase as much because there would be no need to earn a return for investors, according to officials and private analysts.
But there’s a catch: D.C. Water would want to pay the federal government far less than the $119 million than the administration wants from the sale.
The aqueduct proposal is an example of the hurdles facing the Trump administration’s ambitious plan to privatize public assets, such as roads and bridges. The administration would then use proceeds from the sales of the assets to fund new infrastructure projects.
The White House also supports privatization to promote local control and market incentives. It isn’t clear whether Congress will go along with its plans, including for the aqueduct.
The administration’s proposal to “divest” of the facility was barely noticed when the full budget proposal was issued May 23. The Corps of Engineers has run the aqueduct since the conduit began operation during the Civil War.
The network of intakes, pipes and treatment plants carries water from the Potomac River, at Great Falls and Little Falls, to the Dalecarlia, Georgetown and McMillan reservoirs. The water is sold to D.C. Water and other utilities that serve all households in the District and Arlington, and some in Fairfax.
The Washington Aqueduct employs 140 people and is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Divestiture would not save the federal government money in year-to-year costs, because the aqueduct receives no federal subsidies. Payments by customers cover all its expenses, for both operations and investments.
The administration said divestiture would end the outdated practice of having the Corps of Engineers play a role in supplying drinking water to civilians.
“Ownership of local water supply is best carried out by state or local government or the private sector, where there are appropriate market and regulatory incentives,” Douglas W. Lamont, a senior official in the office of the Secretary of the Army, said in May 24 testimony to a House Appropriations subcommittee.