Baltimore Water Problems Overshadow Flint

The state of Maryland last week took steps to take over operations of the City of Baltimore’s Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant amid concerns that the city’s water supply is in danger of catastrophic failure.

State Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles ordered the action at the largest water treatment facility in the state. The decision was based on a decline in proper maintenance and operations at the plant that created serious public risks.

An inspection report in the last week revealed lack of maintenance was preventing the facility from adequately treating the sewage it takes in from the city and Baltimore County. Regulators found it likely that there have been massive discharges of partially treated sewage into the Back River, allowing dangerous bacteria to flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition to the wastewater crisis, the city has significant problems with its drinking water system. Massive line breaks, waste, no infrastructure maintenance or improvement, and failed billing systems have all plagued city residents.

Baltimore has been governed exclusively by the Democratic Party since World War II and has not been politically competitive in more than six decades. Now the city has a water service record worse than that of infamous Flint, Michigan, to go with its history of horrendous crime and failed public schools.

Johns Hopkins University professor Steve Hanke is an expert in economics and water resource management. He testified before the Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to explain that Baltimore’s most serious problems stem from unimproved infrastructure dating as far back as 1855, poor financial management, and refusal to privatize resources.

Baltimore had more than 4,200 water main breaks between 2015 and 2018. In comparison, New York City had only 347 breaks over the same period in a system three times larger and serving five times as many people.

2015 saw more than 5,000 sewage backups in the Baltimore water system, compared with 622 in 2004. Media reports indicate that the backups regularly lead to raw sewage in waterways leading to dead fish and algae blooms. When the federal government intervened, it was determined that the city did not have a complete map of its wastewater system and no information about the condition of system pipelines.

Like Democratic-controlled cities around the nation, Baltimore cannot solve its problems on its own, cannot produce a basic audit or balance sheet, or protect public safety but is eager to lay the blame for its issues on the private sector.