Water Task Force Declines a Rush into Regional Authority

As Task Force passes the buck to future work group, serious concerns remain about a regional authority
Published Jan 26, 2024

Clean Water

As Task Force passes the buck to future work group, serious concerns remain about a regional authority
As Task Force passes the buck to future work group, serious concerns remain about a regional authority

Tonight, the Baltimore Water Regional Governance Task Force unanimously voted to recommend that the City and County improve the existing governance framework for the Baltimore water and sewer system, create a new City-County advisory council, and establish a new work group to conduct more due diligence about the best governance structure for the utility. This vote is a major shift from what had seemed like a predetermined outcome to transition to a regional water authority. The Task Force also rejected a last minute County-led effort to rewrite the recommendations to move directly to a new regional entity.  Since last February, advocates have called for far more due diligence before recommending a major change in governance for the city’s largest asset, as a shift to a regional authority could cause profound harm for residents and workers. 

“We commend the Task Force members for not rushing into a major change that would sacrifice local control of Baltimore’s essential water and sewer services,” said Mary Grant, the Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. “Local control of the water and sewer system is necessary to protect water affordability and equity programs, respect collective bargaining contracts and the rights of workers, and center the needs of residents. We urge the city, county and state officials to continue to protect local control of Baltimore’s water.”

Throughout the Task Force process, several task force members identified many of the risks of a water authority: refinancing existing debt at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, transferring the workforce and worker pensions, overturning Baltimore City’s charter provision that bans water privatization, and the need for a racial and economic equity assessment.

“We are pleased with the Task Force’s decision to not enact a regional authority without doing a proper racial equity and economic equity study to determine how a change in governance structure will affect Black and low-income Baltimore residents,” said David Wheaton of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF). “Regionalizing Baltimore’s water system would not solve critical problems that exist within Baltimore’s water and wastewater system and could exacerbate the harms suffered by Black Baltimore residents. Moreover, as a new working committee is established it is critical that Baltimore maintains control over the water and wastewater systems so that all major decisions are in the best interest of the residents it serves.”

Advocates estimated that creating a regional water authority could result in an estimated $1.7 to 2.5 billion in transaction costs. This estimate includes the cost to refinance existing debt, cover lease payments, and ensure pension benefits under a new authority.  The findings and recommendations will be sent to the City, County, Governor and General Assembly by January 30, 2024. It includes a recommendation for the state legislature to establish and provide financial support for a new work group to conduct due diligence on various regional governance models.

Press Contact: Peter Hart [email protected]