Legislators in Baltimore have taken historic steps to ban water privatization in the city—a move that will benefit lower-income earning communities in the majority Black city.
On Monday (August 6), members of the Baltimore City Council approved a resolution that will ban water privatization via a nearly unanimous vote. As reported by ThinkProgress:
The resolution, which would amend the city’s charter to bar any sale of Baltimore water and sewer systems, comes after years of controversy over private corporations looking into purchasing parts of the utilities. If successful, the resolution will become a ballot initiative in the November midterm election.
Privatization efforts have been wildly unpopular with water accessibility advocates around the country. Such moves typically cost consumers significantly more in water bills, limiting the access of low-income communities who already struggle with affordability challenges. Opponents also argue that privatization limits public accountability and input, in addition to contributing to urban sprawl and hindering overall access to water.
In Baltimore, water costs have increased steadily in recent years. Residents, particularly those who are lower-income earning, have argued that the utility cost is making the city unaffordable and have protested the increases. "Sharp increases in the price of tap water have pushed some of Baltimore’s poorest residents far beyond their ability to pay their bills, an independent economist has concluded," reported The Baltimore Sun in December. Officials maintain that the rising costs are necessary for upgrades to the city’s aging infrastructure.
Baltimore residents are not the only people in the nation who face the financial hardships that often accompany water privitazation. As Colorlines previously reported in June, Puerto Rico’s Public-Private Partnerships Authority announced it would begin partially privatizing the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority. It claimed the move will improve water quality and service for residents. However, Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement that privatization would lead to “excessively high water bills for households and businesses already struggling to rebuild in the wake of [Hurricane Maria].”
Rianna Eckel of Food & Water Watch said in a statement that privatizing water is “simply unethical, immoral and dangerous.” A 2015 survey of the 500 largest water systems found that for-profit providers charge 59 percent more than local governments. Baltimore could become the first major American city to ban the sale and lease of its water and sewer system.
Baltimore, a city of approximately 611,000 people, is 63 percent Black. Twenty-one percent of its residents live below the federal poverty line, according to the latest Census information. Glen Middleton, the executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Maryland Council 67, said, “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…. Keep water privatization away from our communities.”
Now that the resolution has passed in the city council, it will be on the ballot in the citywide midterm election in November.