Baltimore City Council, led by Council President Jack Young, has just said “hell no” to water privatization in their city. This is a refreshingly intelligent step meant to protect their citizens from the ravages of bad management that abound when municipalities let private corporations take over their water systems. It’s an approach that city councils everywhere should take note of — it’s far better to shut out corporations early than to try to defend against them once contracts are underway.
The Problems With Privatized Water
The negative effects of letting corporations buy up control of the water management in cities and towns are many. You can read more about it here, but a few items are:
- Loss of transparency. Private operators usually restrict public access to information and do not have the same level of openness as the public sector.
- Cherry-picking service areas. Private water companies are unlikely to adopt the same criteria as municipalities when deciding where to extend service. They are prone to cherry-picking service areas to avoid serving low-income communities where low water use and frequent bill collection problems could hurt corporate profits.
- Undermining the human right to water. As a result of price hikes, service disconnections, inadequate investment and other detrimental economic consequences, water privatization often interferes with the human right to water.
- It generally costs more for consumers. 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.
In a city like Baltimore where the water system services almost 2 million people — many of whom are already struggling to keep up with rate hikes and keep their water running — the impact of water privatization would be devastating.
How Will This Become Final?
First, Mayor Pugh will have to sign off on this excellent amendment to the city’s charter. If she signs by August 13th, the voters of Baltimore will get to decide for themselves if this becomes law in November. We’re confident she’s going to, and we’re confident the citizens will vote “yes!”
If the mayor signs it after that, then the voters won’t get their chance to decide until November of 2020. A lot can happen in two years, and private water corporations would almost certainly use that time to shift the odds in their favor. Simply put, sooner is better.
It’s looking like it’s in the bag, though. Mayor Pugh had a hand in crafting the initial drafts of this charter amendment, and she’s put out a statement in support of it:
“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.”
The Baltimore City Council, along with Mayor Pugh, are poised to be water advocacy leaders. Banning water privatization in a major city will be a benchmark in great leadership that could have ripple effects all across the country. We are waiting, and we are sure that Mayor Pugh will do the right thing.