The Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee held a first work session on the Water Accountability and Equity Act. At the work session, the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition discussed amendments from the Law Department and voiced concerns about Director Rudy Chow and his Department of Public Works (DPW) failing to prepare for the discussion. DPW missed the deadline to submit written amendments to the legislation set by the committee and offered no amendments to the legislation during the work session.
In response, the following statement was issued by Rianna Eckel, Senior Maryland Organizer at Food & Water Watch:
“Right now the average water bill in Baltimore is roughly one hundred dollars per month. For the typical household, this is simply too much to pay for water and sewer service. With outrageous rate hikes still coming, water infrastructure chaos, and a ransomware attack stalling the water billing process, the water crisis in Baltimore is at an all-time high.
“Now, more than ever is not the time to settle for bandaid and half-baked solutions. The Water Accountability and Equity Act (WAEA) was written as a way to completely and fully protect Baltimoreans from water woes.
“With anything less than WAEA, customers will not have a sufficient avenue to resolve water service billing issues. The Department of Public Works has historically failed to work with customers to discover the root cause of high bills, and frequently dismisses complaints by saying without any evidence that “it must be a leak. At times, it has taken up to a full year for customers to receive an answer on billing disputes.
“The customer advocate created in WAEA would be able to work at both the micro and macro level to solve individual and systemic problems that would be reported and discussed biannually to an Oversight Committee.
“At the same time, WAEA would also create the Water-for-All Discount Program, which is a real affordability program that provides vulnerable residents with a path out of water debt. This does not currently exist and other proposed solutions would not cover all households at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line. WAEA would also cover renters, which make up 53% of Baltimoreans, regardless of buy-in from potentially absent landlords.
“It comes down to one question: does Baltimore want to truly solve this growing water crisis and provide full protections to all residents, including the most vulnerable, or not? Anything less than WAEA means the answer is no and that is an affront to the human right to water and a villainy to many of the city’s residents.”