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Baltimore's growing water crisis has bigger impact on city's black neighborhoods

Posted at 11:34 PM, May 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-23 08:15:23-04

BALTIMORE — It's a growing problem in Baltimore City, outrageous water bills, some families billed thousands of dollars for water they did not use.

A new study from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund showed the problem is even bigger in black neighborhoods.

The problems started to pour in last year for Darnetta Young and her family.

“December 2018 is when it started, but it wasn’t as bad,” Young said. “January is when it really hit the roof.”

The "roof" was a bill for more than 41,000 gallons of water costing $4,000 for a family of four that was averaging around $75 a month for water services.

She said Baltimore City Department of Public Works came by and did the shutoff test and it showed a leak. At their request she hired a plumber who said there was no leak underground. The next month another a bill for $2,000 and more runaround for a family struggling to make ends meet.

“Stress, I still gotta go to work," Young said. "According to DPW all they say is pay as much as you can, but you still risk getting the water shut off.”

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund released a study of race and water affordability. The study found that in 2019 water bills will exceed two percent of black median income in 118 of the city's 200 census tracts; 65 percent of the black population lives in these tracts. In five tracts, four of which are majority-black, water will cost 6 to 8 percent of black median income; 200 African American households' water bills will be over 2 percent of their income in Baltimore.

In 2020, water bills will exceed 2 percent of black median income in 131 of 200 census tracts. Only 23 of the 131 tracts are not majority black. In eight tracts, seven of which have a majority-black population, water will cost 6 to 8 percent of Black median income.

“It really paints an accurate picture of what’s going on in Baltimore,” Rianna Eckel said. “It’s an incredibly dysfunctional and broken system when it comes to our water bills.”

Eckel is the Senior Maryland Organizer for lobbying group Food and Water Watch, who has been lobbying at City Hall for a bill that would cap water bills at 3 percent of a household’s income.

“We’re facing another three-year 30% rate increase,” Eckel said. “The first installment, that will be about a 10 percent, will go into effect July 1st of this year.”.

The Water Accountability and Equity Act is aimed at remedying some of the water issues in the city. It passed through first reader in the City Council, but still needs to go through two more votes to become law.