Baltimore’s public water system will remain just that, public. Voters there overwhelmingly supported an amendment to the city’s charter declaring the “inalienability” of its water and sewer systems, Reuters reports, effectively banning privatization—the first large city to do so. Calling it, “a historic victory for local control of water,” Rianna Eckel of advocacy group Food and Water Watch writes, “No corporation can take the water and sewer system away from the city.” About 77% of voters supported the measure. Baltimore has one of the country’s oldest water systems, and rates have quadrupled in the past 18 years after decades of deferred maintenance.
Proponents of the amendment were concerned that privatization of the system would result in even more rate increases, over which the city would have no control. According to Eckel, private water utilities charge nearly 60% more than public ones. A Baltimore official says that private water companies have shown interest in taking over parts of the system, telling Reuters, “There was a lot of chatter that we needed to close the door on.” Other cities have shown interest in what Baltimore is doing. Pittsburgh council members, for instance, recently had a discussion with some of their Baltimore counterparts, with one of the former telling Reuters that Pittsburgh council members “appear resistant to privatizing our water system.” (The Pope says safe drinking water is a human right.)