Today, the Baltimore City Council, led by Council President Bernard “Jack” Young, made history by unanimously voting to amend the City Charter to declare the sewer system and water supply system as “inalienable.” Baltimore is in position to become the first city in the country to amend its charter to prohibit the sale and lease of its water and sewer system.
Water privatization has become a highly contentious issue in Baltimore City for several years as multiple water corporations have expressed interest in the city’s water system. Nationally, the Trump Administration has released an infrastructure blueprint that relies heavily on private investment in infrastructure.
“I have always been a proponent of retaining our city’s assets, which is why I am completely opposed to the privatization of Baltimore’s water system,” said City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young. “Access to clean and affordable water should be looked at as a basic human right.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh must sign the resolution by August 13 to place the charter amendment before voters on the November ballot. Pugh first proposed this charter amendment at the end of June in response to public concerns about other charter proposals that would have facilitated the privatization of the water system.
“The City’s water and sewer system is a priceless asset for the citizens of Baltimore and I am determined to do everything possible to protect this vital resource and ensure that it remains reliable, clean, and plentiful,” said Mayor Catherine Pugh. “As such, I’m delighted that the City Council is supportive of my earlier efforts to safeguard Baltimore City’s water system and require that it is always operated in the best interests of those who rely on it, and for generations to come.”
Water privatization usually results in increases to household water bills. A Food & Water Watch survey of the 500 largest water systems found that for-profit providers charge 59 percent more than local governments charge for the same amount of water. This is a particular concern for Baltimore City as it grapples with existing water affordability challenges. A study by independent consultant Roger Colton found that water bills will become unaffordable for households in more than half the city by 2019 with the enactment of the most recent rate hike.
“Water privatization is simply unethical, immoral, and dangerous,” said Rianna Eckel, Maryland Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “Such a loss of local control can result in skyrocketing water bills, escalating water shutoff rates, downsizing public sector jobs, and deteriorating service quality. Baltimore will be a public water hero when this legislation passes - and should act as an example for other cities across the country.”
“AFSCME Maryland Council 67 has continually fought alongside our allies to keep our water public. By privatizing water and sewer systems, local government officials hand over control of a vital public resource.” said Glen Middleton, Executive Director, AFSCME Maryland Council 67 and President of Maryland Public Employees, AFSCME Local 44. “Not only will water privatization increase water rates across the city, but it will also deprive low-income communities and communities of color access to clean and safe water. A service in which our members, Baltimore Municipal Employees, AFSCME Local 44, work diligently to provide. This is why bill number 18-0271 is necessary for our city. It is time for Baltimore to set the precedent for cities across the country. Keep water privatization away from our communities.”
Upon approval by the mayor and voters of the city, Baltimore would be the first city in the country to amend its charter to preserve public ownership and control over its water and sewer systems. It would be the largest U.S. city to prohibit any sale or lease of its water system. It follows the passage of an ordinance in Northampton, Mass., in 2016 prohibiting sales and leases of the city water system.
"Baltimore has been and is a leader in municipally owned water system. Mr. Wolman, a public employee, designed a system that is the envy of the America,” said Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., Pastor, Union Baptist Church. “The City of Baltimore and its citizens should never relish its role and responsibility to provide safe, clean and affordable water to its citizens. Therefore, privatize never!"