Another Water Rate Hike, Advocates Call for Relief

As the water crisis in Baltimore compounds, implementing the Water Accountability & Equity Act is increasingly urgent

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Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Baltimore, MD — Today, Baltimore’s water rates will rise nearly 10%, again. This is the third and final installment of the three-year, 30% water rate increase approved by the Board of Estimates in January 2019. With this rate increase, the typical residential water bill will be more than triple the cost of the same bill in 2010.

According to the United Nations, water is affordable when it is no more than 3% of a family’s income. This rate increase will deepen the burden for low income Baltimoreans. For households living at the federal poverty line, residential water burden will be 4% or higher in 196 of the city’s 198 census tracts. In 74 of these census tracts (37%), families living at the federal poverty level will experience bill burdens of up to 10% of their income — nearly five times higher than the affordable level. 

July 1st is also the deadline for implementation of the Water Accountability & Equity Act (WAEA), a bill passed in 2019 to ensure water affordability in Baltimore. The bill creates a percentage-of-income water affordability program, to keep water bills permanently affordable for low income Baltimoreans. The bill also establishes a new customer-oriented water billing dispute resolution process to prioritize accountability. Championed by Mayor Scott during his tenure as City Council President, the Department of Public Works is currently working to implement the Water Accountability & Equity Act, and expects to begin taking applications in late October. The Department has promised to apply credits retroactively to the July 1 deadline. Baltimore-based Food & Water Action Senior Organizer Rianna Eckel said:

“With each rate increase, Baltimore is compounding our water affordability crisis. As the city prices more Baltimoreans out of water service, we urge the administration to do their utmost to enact the Water Accountability & Equity Act’s Water for All program immediately, with water justice in mind. With WAEA, Baltimore can set a standard for equitable, affordable access to water.”

Philadelphia was the first city in the country to implement a percentage-of-income water affordability program — with the Water Accountability & Equity Act, Baltimore would be the second. A recent analysis of Philadelphia’s program found that it dramatically increased collectability rates from 47 percent to 88 percent, and improved timeliness of payments among enrolled households.

Philadelphia’s program was also efficient for the utility operators. Due to improved payment patterns, despite providing an estimated $10 million in discounts, it collected only $2 million less in actual revenue than it would have without the program in 2019. That means that the net cost of the program providing affordable water service to more than 36,000 Philadelphians was $2 million in 2019. Baltimore can expect similar results.

“DPW continues to raise water rates to generate income to cover critical infrastructure improvements, but every time the rate goes up, revenue goes down,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore Director of Jews United for Justice. “Philadelphia’s program proves what we already knew — when people can afford their bills, they pay them.” 

The Baltimore Right to Water Coalition will continue to work with DPW to see the Water Accountability and Equity Act implemented swiftly to provide the financial relief so many need.

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]