BALTIMORE — After eight arduous days, water service has been restored to residents of the Poe Homes.
"It's wonderful," said Alice Wilkerson. "I took a bath this morning. My shower was working but I wanted to get in the tub because we didn't have water for a while."
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City said as of Tuesday afternoon, all residents finally had enough water pressure flowing through the pipes to take showers and actually use water. The Poe Homes are still operating off of a temporary bypass installed over the weekend following a water main break last Monday that led to the service disruption.
For the past two days, HABC has been swapping out newly-installed toilets that rely on higher pressure to flush, for older models that can function with less pressure in the pipes. This swap helped relieve water flow issues within the Poe Homes’ plumbing system to allow a more even flow throughout the development’s units.
"The anticipation is that will improve the water pressure to all the individual units," said Jeffrey Raymond with Baltimore City Department of Public Works.
As of roughly 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Housing Authority said they had so far swapped toilets in 221 of 281 units. They expect to finish the rest of the units by the end of the day. The boxes and old toilets littered people's front yards.
The Mayor's Office has also confirmed that DPW and the Department of Health are looking into whether rashes reported by Poe Homes residents could be linked to the water.
Residents had been living without water service for more than a week as the original water main break interrupted service. Because of its proximity to a large BGE conduit that supplies power to much of the city, repair work on the water main had to be performed carefully, with the holes dug to reach the broken piping done manually as to not damage more infrastructure. This lengthened and complicated the repair process.
Residents complained for days of living with low water pressure, if they got any water coming out of faucets at all. Residents couldn’t shower, brush their teeth, cook or clean, and had to rely on bottle water, effectively creating rationing of a limited resource. As the water issue dragged on, other city organizations and residents tried to help, delivering cleaning supplies, food, and more bottled water.
"Some people were angry. I wasn't angry because I went and got what I needed," said Wilkerson.
There's still much work to be done, not only with the aging infrastructure, but with how the city handles emergencies like this one. Many people were frustrated with how long it took to respond to the crisis.
"It's ridiculous. It's sad. It's inhumane," said resident Vivian Horne. "Water is not a luxury. It is a necessity."
The Baltimore City Council asked for a hearing with DPW to talk about the water issues at Poe Homes and how to handle future outages.
Now that water is flowing to the Poe Homes again, DPW needs to assess the original pipe and there's no timeline for how long Poe Homes will run off of the bypass.
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City released a statement following the restoration of water at the Poe Homes, stating that they were heartened by the outpour of support from the community in helping residents.
“We are heartened by the overwhelming outpour of support from the residents of Baltimore City and our Community partners, in helping Poe residents during this ordeal,” said Janet Abrahams, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. “I want to especially thank our residents for their understanding as DPW continued to try to fix the problem. We responded to the emergency situation with a methodical overwhelming effort to ensure that our residents were as comfortable as possible given the circumstances."
HABC will be assessing the cost of the emergency.