The big question raised at a recent meeting of the Board of Directors for DC Water was: At what point can the Board shut off the water supply of a customer who isn’t paying their bills? A related question was: What if that customer happens to be the White House?

The Board’s chief financial officer, Matthew Brown, brought up how he received an email from a Treasury Department official saying that the federal government would not be paying all of their quarterly water bill, which comes out to $16.5 million. The email apparently said that the government would not be paying $5 million of that.

In response to this, Water Board Chairman Tommy Wells noted, “That brings up an interesting question,” before asking, “Is there a time from nonpayment when we cut someone’s water off?”

Another board member replied, “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is that what you’re talking about?”

The conversation appeared to be a joke, but it led to a serious discussion of the issue. Can D.C. officials shut off the White House’s water if they don’t pay up?

The answer, apparently, is yes.

“Conceivably, DC Water can shut off service for nonpayment to any customer,” DC Water spokesperson Vincent Morris told WAMU radio. “We don’t do it very often, it’s a last resort, we never want to do it.” The Water Board normally tries to make arrangements with customers so service is not interrupted, provided they intend to pay up.

“Obviously, for things like the General Services Administration for the federal government it’s a slightly different process, because we know they’re good for the money, it’s just a question of when it’s actually going to be transferred,” Morris said.

The ongoing federal government shutdown would have to go on for a very long time before it created a significant burden on the local Board.

“It would probably be, just off the top of my head, approximately a year before it begins to be a real problem,” Morris said, when the subject was brought up at the meeting.

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