By J. K. Schmid, AFRO Baltimore Staff

It’s a grim picture Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works (DPW) is painting as a possible future for the city’s water.

Rudolph “Rudy” S. Chow, professional engineer and DPW Director, speaking to Baltimore citizens gathered at Walbrook’s Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church in West Baltimore, laid out what had been done, what needs to be done next, and addressed directly what was on everyone’s mind: What it would cost.

Rudolph Chow, Director of Baltimore DPW addressing concerns about an imminent water rate hike. (Photo credit: J.K. Schmid)

DPW and Chow, personally, are asking for rate increases in water service across the board, approximately nine percent annually for water, sewer and storm water. Each rate hike will become effective each July starting in 2019.

“That’s the cruel reality,” Chow said.

Baltimore’s approximately 620,000 residents sit atop 1,500 miles of pipe, a 100-year-old system. DPW is six years into repairing every length of Baltimore’s water infrastructure at a rate of 15 miles of pipe per year.

The city is unquestionably falling behind with its current revenues.

Walbrook Ave. itself was flooded by a broken pipe until the week prior to Chow’s visit. It’s now repaired.

Last year saw record rainfall in Baltimore and thusly record service demand to a strained system. Last winter saw 10,000 frozen service mains and, at peak, 600 main breaks in four weeks.

Chow claimed to be going off script and speaking from the heart when outlining his concerns about the conditions of city infrastructure. Nevertheless the slides behind him, pictures of collapsed highways and a decrepit concrete sewer pipe punctuated his remarks about what the city and the community are up against.

Independent of the issue of the necessity of rate hikes, one community member asked how she could be expected to pay anything more for water, if she is already five percent above the poverty line and just breaking even right now.

As published elsewhere in the AFRO the rate hike comes with a promotion of DPW’s “new” Baltimore H20 Assists Program.

Essentially a streamlining of already available assistance programs, H20 Assists look to Baltimore citizens at or below 175 percent of the poverty line. Such eligible citizens can receive a 43 percent reduction in their water rates, reductions include waivers for both Bay Restoration and stormwater remediation fees.

The program will go into effect July 1, 2019, the same time as the rate increase. Citizens already receiving public assistance in other forms likely qualify for H20 Assists, DPW said.

Further, Chow told the AFRO that based on census data, 40,000 Baltimore residents should qualify, but only a few thousand are enrolled in DPW’s current rate reduction program. Chow hopes to close that gap with the new initiative.

Linda Batts, of Hanlon Park, asked Chow for comparative figures during the meeting, examples of how other municipalities like Washington, D.C and Detroit were paying for and delivering water. No such figures were provided during the presentation. Batts also asked how with a declining city population, service costs were still rising. Chow did not have an immediate answer.

“We didn’t hear from you what choices we have in case we don’t like what we’ve heard today and want to protest and follow through with an appeal,” she said.