Advocates Call for Public Input into Baltimore Water Governance Inquiry 

Governor signs state legislation that could be first step to a new regional water authority

Published Apr 26, 2023

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Clean Water

Governor signs state legislation that could be first step to a new regional water authority

Governor signs state legislation that could be first step to a new regional water authority

Baltimore, MD —  After Governor Wes Moore signs legislation (HB 843 and SB 880) on Monday to establish the Baltimore Regional Water Governance Task Force, community groups are urging state and local officials to protect workers and residents throughout the process.

The task force will recommend a new governance model for the Baltimore water and sewer utility, with the intention is to guide state legislation to enact the recommended changes as early as next year. 

The task force is viewed as the first step to establish a regional authority. The Governor, Senate President Bill Ferguson, Speaker Adrienne Jones, Mayor Brandon Scott, County Executive Johnny Olszewski, and BMC Chair and County Executive Calvin Ball III will appoint the task force members.

Twenty-one groups have signed on to a letter to those officials to (1) include labor and low-income ratepayer representation on the task force; (2) require racial equity and economic equity impact assessments; (3) preserve existing labor and ratepayer protections established by local jurisdictions; (4) require public comment and public hearings; and (5) provide adequate time for due diligence. 

The groups are: AFT-Maryland, Blue Water Baltimore, Chapman Forest Foundation, Chesapeake Legal Alliance, Clean Water Action, Community Development Clinic, University of Baltimore School of Law, Doctors for Camp Closure, Food & Water Watch, Friends of Swann Park, Glen Echo Heights Mobilization, Gwynns Falls Community Association, Jews United for Justice, Maryland Legislative Coalition, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), Our Revolution Maryland, Progressive Marylankd, SANIPLAN, St. Mary’s River Watershed Association, The 6th Branch, and www.HoCoClimateAction.org.

“The recommendations of the Baltimore Regional Water Governance Task Force will have profound impacts on everyone serviced by the Department of Public Works, but especially low-wealth and BIPOC families,” said Rianna Eckel, Baltimore Water Outreach Coordinator with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. “It is vital for this task force to consider systemic problems and how they intersect with access to water, and to center those most vulnerable. In order to do so, our leaders must appoint the right people to the task force who will prioritize community input, uplift public solutions, and ensure that local protections and democratic control are upheld.” 

Labor, ratepayer and environmental advocates and the public had been excluded through the legislative process. The bill passed with a last amendment to remove a protection against water privatization, leaving open the door to many forms of private operation and management. The public was never given a chance to testify in the Senate or on the amendment. The entire bill was written and advanced behind closed doors without public forewarning or consultation and advocates raise concerns that this marred process sets a tone for the task force. 

“We are deeply concerned that the lack of public discourse and debate during the consideration of this bill is a harbinger of what’s to come in the Task Force itself,” said Alice Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper with Blue Water Baltimore. “Our proposed amendments aligned with the recommendations of the very study that this Task Force is based on, particularly around expanding the stakeholder group to include more voices. Since those amendments weren’t adopted, we call upon Governor Moore and the members of the Task Force to hear our concerns, even though we have been silenced throughout this process.”

“The Task Force must include the voices of Baltimore residents, particularly low-income households and water system workers,” said Mary Grant, the Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. “The future of our water and sewer system is at stake. Without adopting a strong set of principles to protect the public through this process, a state-led regionalization would upend local protections, opening the door to water privatization and water shutoffs with devastating impact. We call on our elected officials to make a firm commitment to reject all forms of water privatization, including leases and for-profit operation and management. We must improve our water and sewer system as a public asset under local control for the good and wellbeing of all residents in the Baltimore region.”  

“We represent city water and wastewater workers who have been working 10, 15, and in some cases 20 years in service to the city and its residents to provide vital water resources to our community,” said Maxine Holmes, Labor Relations Specialist with the City Union of Baltimore, Local 800. “While we agree many improvements need to be made to our systems, we worry that employees’ views, years of service, experience, and knowledge will be completely discarded as this new task force considers changing the management structure of our water and wastewater utilities.”

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Press Contact: Peter Hart [email protected]

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