Baltimore, Maryland officially enacted the Water Accountability and Equity Act (WAEA).
In November 2019, the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously in favor of the WAEA, and on Jan. 13 Mayor Jack Young signed the bill into law.
“Baltimore is shattering antiquated water billing inequities, setting a new benchmark for billing fairness and government accountability, and rising up as a water justice champion in this country,” said Rianna Eckel, senior organizer of Food & Water Action. “Baltimoreans can now rest easy knowing they will be able to afford to turn on the tap, but the rest of America is still far behind. We need federal action to make sure the rest of the country catches up to Baltimore and all Americans have access to safe, clean, and affordable public water.”
The United Nations has declared that water bills should not exceed 3% of a household income. Black households also pay disproportionately high bills. To eradicate racial water injustice, Baltimore is becoming the second city after Philadelphia to set up a percentage-of-income water affordability program.
“The Water Accountability & Equity Act will transform Baltimore’s broken water billing system to work for people,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore director of Jews United For Justice. “We have been a part of bringing this critical, desperately needed legislation from introduction to enactment and we will continue to diligently engage to ensure swift and successful implementation of the law.”
Baltimore’s water justice leadership began with a win against privatization in 2018, reported Food & Water Watch. Voters protected public ownership over the water system by passing a charter amendment to declare Baltimore’s water system a permanent, inalienable asset of the city. The city then passed the Water Taxpayer Protect Act to protect homeowners, renters, and places of worship from losing their properties over unpaid water bills.
“This law is designed to turn this agency around. It requires affordable rates, new ways to solve high-bill problems, a people’s advocate, and a public process for reforming DPW,” said Jaime Lee, associate professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and director of its Community Development Clinic. “Now, we need strong new leadership at DPW to robustly implement the law and to rebuild public trust.”
There will be a customer advocate’s office, according to Food & Water Watch.