By Sen. Cory McCray
Concerns surrounding water have plagued cities and towns across our country. The 2014 water crisis in Flint, Mich. is one of many examples. A switch in Flint’s water source sickened dozens and exposed thousands to lead and other contaminants. Locally, last year, I, along with thousands of other Marylanders, learned that failing maintenance and infrastructure of Back River and Patapsco Wastewater Treatment facilities caused excessive amounts of bacteria to flow into the Bay.
It has been nearly 50 years since officials have analyzed the water agreements shared by Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and surrounding jurisdictions. Today, this agreement from the 1970’s impacts some 1.8 million users. In 1972, Baltimore City had a population of nearly 1 million, but in 2023, just under 600,000 people call Baltimore home. Meanwhile, Baltimore County continues to expand in population. Over the years, the region has seen rising water bills and failing infrastructure — jeopardizing the safety of the water we drink and use daily.
This past legislative session, I proposed Senate Bill 392 which would have provided local governments and operators with the funding and resources to assist with the maintenance and operations of our water facilities. However, the bill stalled in the Maryland House of Delegates this last session. The bill would have ensured that Maryland is not only a stakeholder in the success of capital projects for our wastewater treatment facilities but is active in the operations of these facilities.
However, from the last legislative session, the General Assembly did establish the Baltimore Regional Water Governance Task Force at the request of city and county officials. The task force’s purpose is to develop a new governance model for the regional water system that reflects the current state of change. In July, Senate President Bill Ferguson selected me to serve on this 13-member task force of individuals representing Baltimore City and County, the Governor’s Office, the General Assembly, and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.
The task force held its first public meeting in September. At that time, we began the process of examining our current system. Under this system, Baltimore City bears the responsibility for the water supply and wastewater operations, including maintenance and capital investment. At the same time, Baltimore County and the surrounding jurisdictions are responsible for a proportionate share of these costs. These public meetings will be held several times throughout the year. Upon understanding the processes currently in place, the task force will look at the governance, make sound recommendations, and present them to our local and state bodies.
The state has a role in the safety of the water in the Baltimore region and in ensuring that it is operational. As communities construct new developments, we must analyze how these new infrastructures impact the system. I would be remiss if I did not mention that our neighbors across Baltimore City have been frustrated over the years due to water billing for city residents versus the charges for Baltimore County residents. It will be incumbent on this body to dig deep to understand the accuracy of billing. We also need to create a path forward that is transparent and accurate; a plan that articulates the facilitation of the billing and the distribution of water – especially for seniors and people within economically distressed situations.
The writer represents the 45th District in the Maryland State Senate, which includes Northeast and East Baltimore City. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @SenatorMcCray