Baltimore, MD – The Baltimore Regional Water Governance Task Force announced that it would hold four in-person meetings over the course of this fall, before recommending a new governance model for the city’s water and wastewater system.
Advocates are calling into question the locations of the Task Force meetings and the lack of a virtual participation option at every meeting. None of the meetings will be located in central locations within the city, and none are in the majority Black neighborhoods in West or East Baltimore – despite the disparate impacts of unaffordable water bills and the E.coli contamination of last year in West Baltimore.
The Task Force will have two virtual meetings, one in mid-November and another in January. The final report is due to the legislature on January 30, 2024.
Throughout the process, a coalition of local organizations have urged the task force to 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.
“The work of the Task Force has the potential to deeply impact Baltimoreans, especially low-wealth and Black, brown, and immigrant communities,” said Rianna Eckel, Baltimore Water Outreach Coordinator with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. “It is unacceptable for these meetings not to be held at any easily accessible, central locations in the city, or in the communities likely to be most deeply impacted. We know that Baltimoreans have limited access to cars due to financial barriers and a lacking public transportation system. If the Task Force truly wants to hear the thoughts and concerns of Baltimore City community members, these meetings must not just include, but center, the voices of those who will be most affected by their decisions. Relocating meetings and ensuring there is a virtual option that allows participation is vital.”
“While we are encouraged to see the addition of virtual meetings, the bulk of the Task Force meetings will be inaccessible to many people in Baltimore City,” said Jomar Lloyd, Baltimore organizer with Food & Water Watch. “The future of the water system is at stake, and the City and County must do much more to expand and facilitate public participation of impacted residents, particularly in low-wealth, majority Black neighborhoods in West and East Baltimore. Baltimore City residents deserve equitable access and a voice in this process to decide the future of their city’s largest asset, the water and sewer system.”
“This conversation regarding the future of Baltimore’s water and wastewater utilities is something everyone in the city should have a say on,” said City Union of Baltimore President Antoinette Ryan-Johnson. “It is the most valuable asset our city owns, and it touches the lives of every living thing in Baltimore. Changes that this taskforce will consider to this most vital resource cannot be done in haste, and must take every feasible measure to include community voices, especially those who may not be able to attend these meetings in person due to accessibility issues.”