BALTIMORE, MD – Governor Wes Moore, Mayor Brandon Scott, County Executive John Olszewski and other state officials announced the 13 members of the Baltimore Regional Water Governance Task Force, which will recommend a new governance model for the city-owned water and wastewater assets by January 30, 2024. The intention is to guide state legislation that could enact a change as early as next year.
Local organizations reiterated their demands that the task force should conduct racial and economic equity assessments, preserve local ratepayer and labor protections, hold public hearings and a robust comment period, and exclude privatization options that would undermine local control.
“We applaud Mayor Brandon Scott for appointing a labor union representative to the Task Force, but we are disappointed low-income ratepayers were not given a direct seat at the table,” said Mary Grant, the Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. “The Task Force must make every effort to hold accessible public hearings and intentionally engage low-income residents who would be disparately impacted by any governance change. It must protect Baltimore’s water and wastewater system as a publicly owned and operated asset that ensures water affordability and access for residents. The future of our water and wastewater system is at stake.”
The task force is viewed as the first step to establish a regional authority. There are high profile cases in cities like Detroit and Birmingham that illustrate the serious problems with this approach without public participation and decision making. Advocates fear that without strong protections, a state-created regional authority could strike down water affordability programs, weaken protections against water shutoffs, and promote harmful privatization efforts.
“Now that the members have been appointed and theTask Force moves forward, we urge the members to prioritize and center the right to safe, affordable, public water for all Baltimoreans, ” said Rianna Eckel, Baltimore Water Outreach Coordinator for Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. “It is vital for the Task Force to ensure that the progress that the Department of Public Works has made in the last few years is not progress lost. We cannot lose important programs like the Water4All affordability program, Office of the Water Advocacy and Customer Appeals, and Sewage Backup Programs, or Council oversight over our water system. The Task Force members must act in Baltimore’s interest.”
Issues such as racial equity, water affordability, the fiscal health of Baltimore city, and the environment must be thoroughly considered and addressed by the Task Force. We hope the Task Force will continue the work that Baltimore is already doing to address a water affordability crisis that has had a disproportionate and detrimental impact on the City’s Black neighborhoods.
“Our water and wastewater system in Baltimore City is in desperate need of improvements,” said City Union of Baltimore President Antoinette Ryan-Johnson. “CUB members have worked in service of the Baltimore region to deliver water and wastewater services for decades, often at great risk to themselves and their co-workers. We, along with the ratepayers in the city have poured enormous personal capital into this city asset. We have concerns that this task force will recommend changes that could wrest control of the most valuable asset of Baltimore City and its residents away from those who have paid the highest price to build and maintain it.”