#bmorewaterjustice: the current state of water access and affordability in Baltimore City

The past few weeks have been full of actions at the local and national level around water access. On the local level, you may have heard of the situation at the Poe Homes, a group of low-income housing units owned by the Baltimore City Housing Authority. The complex was without access to water for a little over a week after a water main broke in mid-June. This led to a drop in water pressure in the homes and some families being moved to short-term housing until the Department of Public Works finished the repairs.

Many people were part of the response to this issue. Some community members collected basic hygiene and food items, while others brought people together to shed light on the problem. Doc Cheatham, a local leader and senior president of a nearby neighborhood group, put together a rally and took to City Hall to put pressure on our city leaders to solve it quickly. In response, the city did it’s best to restore the water pressure, saying part of the problem is the age of the pipes in the Poe Homes system. This tells us that the problem is more substantial than just a water main break. How long will we go until another group of homes has the same issue?

Just this week, there was a water main break near Howard and Pratt. This water main break didn’t lead to a lack of water in homes, but rather to sediment being pushed into the Inner Harbor, and a sinkhole appearing at the Light Rail Camden Yards platform. This sinkhole has disrupted public transportation and demonstrates the connected nature between multiple climate issues.

This is an old city with old pipes running throughout, and we will need to start making changes all over unless we want to see another crisis like the two we just had. The repairs and renovations that out water pipes need also must take into account the changing climate (more on this part in a blog to come).

The Poe Homes situation also brings up a bigger question of our access to water, and it’s cost. The high price is one of the biggest blocks to having clean, durable flowing water and Baltimore residents are about to see (yet another) a steady increase in our water bill. Over the next three years, our rates will go up by thirty percent. This is the result of a decision made by city council late last year, with three members in favor and two against. The Department of Public Works was in support of the rate hike, claiming that the extra funds will be used to pay for much-needed repairs to the city’s sewers & pipes. Some who are against the increase argue that instead of making residents pay more, the city can simply move funds from other agencies that receive a large percent of the budget, such as public safety. These repairs should have begun decades ago, and now residents are paying the price for the lack of preparation from years past. The rate increase will vary depending on usage and how many people are in your home, but one guess says it will be about $8 more each month for a family of three. This eight dollars a month is not taking into account that the water monitors might incorrectly read water usage, further increasing the cost of the bill.

Eight dollars a month may not seem like much to someone with a higher income, but for many, this additional eight dollar amount is adding to an already costly water bill. Any increase in price for some families means a sacrifice for another need just to make sure they have running water. Even when citizens speak up and share how we want the city to spend its funds, we do not have the final say in where that money goes. This will have to change before people can feel like they have real power in our local government.

Two organizations that are currently working to ensure affordable water in Baltimore City are “Food and Water Watch- Maryland” and the “Baltimore Right to Water Coalition.” As part of their organizing, they have been rallying towards passing “Water Accountability & Equity Act,” a city council bill aimed to ensure affordability measures for low-income community members. As part of their organizing effort, they have hosted rallies outside of city hall, written multiple articles on city newspapers, and testified to the city government.

Water is fundamental to life. The lack of action and prioritization by the city to ensure that all communities can access water showcases some of the deep flaws in our political system. Until our government structures are changed to showcase community interests properly, it will be up to our chosen leaders to listen to our demands and work to provide essential services without, harming the lives of those with low-income.

The hashtag #bmorewaterjustice was not created by Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement, but rather the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition. We use this hashtag in order to connect this article with the larger movement around water and to raise awareness of their organizing efforts.

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