News Feature | September 24, 2018

Baltimore To Vote On Water Privatization Ban

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Baltimore voters will consider a measure to ban privatization of the city water system this November, potentially making it the first major city to do so.

“Members of the Baltimore City Council voted to pass a proposal to ban the sale and lease of Baltimore's water and sewer system,” WBALTV11 reported.

Mayor Catherine Pugh has already thrown her support behind banning privatization.

"It is not an option (and) it has never been an option under this administration. So I am excited that this is being introduced. It is something we proposed earlier because we realized how important this water system is to the citizens of Baltimore," Pugh said, per the report.

City Lab analyzed Baltimore’s situation in a recent article, arguing that privatization often brings a dual outcome: “Pipes, once rusty, get sleek; rates get steep.”

Baltimore’s water system is rife with problems.

“Aging pipes in Baltimore’s more than 100-year-old water and sewer systems require intensive maintenance help that leaks billions of dollars from the city. A consent decree established with the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows by 2033 will cost the city another $1.6 billion,” the report stated.

There are upsides to privatization, City Lab pointed out.

“Research has shown that privately owned utility companies are more likely to make politically unpopular but critical investments, and that they comply better than public utilities do with federal regulations,” the report stated.

“But, critics of privatization say, they are less sensitive to the circumstances of low-income customers and don’t have an incentive to encourage water conservation,” it continued.

Food & Water Watch, an advocacy group, collected data on rate differences between public and private water.

“Investor owned utilities typically charge 59 percent more for water service than local government utilities. Food & Water Watch compiled the water rates of the 500 largest community water systems in the country and found that private, for-profit companies charged households an average of $501 a year for 60,000 gallons of water — $185 more than what local governments charged for the same amount of water,” the report stated.