Water Privatization Barred As New Workgroup Studies Baltimore Water Governance

Advocates applaud amendments, will monitor process for racial equity, affordability

Published Apr 9, 2024


Clean Water

Advocates applaud amendments, will monitor process for racial equity, affordability

Advocates applaud amendments, will monitor process for racial equity, affordability

Last night, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation (HB 1509) to continue to study the future governance of Baltimore’s water and wastewater system. After advocacy from the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, the newly created Baltimore Regional Water Governance Model Workgroup will be barred from recommending any privately operated structure. 

Over the next three years, the new workgroup will continue the work of a task force that was established by the General Assembly last year to make a recommendation on the future of Baltimore City’s water and sewer system. 

“We applaud the state legislature for clearly taking water privatization off the table for the future of Baltimore’s water,” said Mary Grant, the Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. “Experience demonstrates that water privatization is a terrible deal for the public leading to higher water bills and less accountability. As the new workgroup studies the future of Baltimore’s water and sewer system over the next three years, we will remain vigilant to ensure that its members hear the voices of impacted Baltimore residents and protect the local democratic decision making necessary to ensure safe and affordable water for all Baltimoreans.” 

After a year of advocacy by the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition and allies, the previous task force slowed down the rush into a regional authority, and as the advocates had advised from the beginning, it determined that it had insufficient time for due diligence to protect the public from unintended harm. The task force recommended that the state establish this new workgroup to resolve what it called “threshold issues” of a regional model, involving debt refinancing, racial equity impacts, and the workforce transition. 

Labor unions will also have two dedicated seats on the new workgroup as the potential harm to workers remains a key outstanding risk of a governance change. 

“This workgroup will look at the future of the water utility for our region for generations to come, and it is vital that the voices of labor are included in these important upcoming conversations,” said City Union of Baltimore President Antoinette Ryan-Johnson. “We are glad the elected leadership has pledged seats for labor at this table. Afterall, who knows more about the strengths and weaknesses of the current utility system than the city and county employees who are engaged in this work every day?” 

Turning control over to a regional water authority could result in more than $2 billion in transaction costs, based on consultant estimates of debt refinancing costs and experience from Detroit. It could lead to large water bill hikes, water shutoffs, water privatization, and the loss of potentially thousands of unionized positions within city and county governments. The water and sewer system is the largest asset of Baltimore City, and a regional authority would take away decision making from the City’s majority Black elected officials. 

Press Contact: Peter Hart [email protected]