The other Flint: Deep-blue Baltimore has some disgusting water problems

Deep blue Flint, Michigan is famous for the filthy water that comes from its taps.

But is Flint is hardly the only water-challenged city in the one-party blue paradises across the U.S.

There's also Baltimore, which is all about bad water, bad wastewater, bad service, bad billing, bad pipes, and bad pollution.  Its problems dwarf Flint's.

According to the Baltimore Sun:

Maryland's Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles on Sunday directed the state to take charge of operations at Baltimore City's troubled Back River Wastewater Treatment plant in Dundalk — the largest such facility in the state.

The extraordinary step came after the Maryland Department of the Environment "determined that the decline in the proper maintenance and operation of the Plant risks catastrophic failures," according to Grumbles' directive.

An inspection report released last week showed widespread maintenance issues at the city-run facility, all preventing it from adequately treating the sewage flowing in from both the city and Baltimore County. Environmental regulators believe that has resulted in massive discharges of partially treated sewage into the Back River, complete with nutrients and dangerous bacteria that harm the Chesapeake Bay.

So these characters have basically been put into state receivership, given the potential for "catastrophic failures."

That's the Baltimore wastewater.  The regular water is all about chaos, too — with massive water breaks, massive water waste, zero infrastructure improvements, and crazed billing that can hurl a $61,000 bill at a consumer who had been paying a reasonable amount earlier while "forgetting" to bill the Ritz-Carlton. 

Baltimore has been governed by Democrats since World War II (House speaker Nancy Pelosi,  née D'Alesandro, comes from Baltimore's entrenched Democrat political royalty, and has brought that Baltimore Way national, to judge by how she runs Congress).  It hasn't seen political competition since maybe the 1950s.  The Democrat party is entrenched there.  It's famous for its crime and bad schools, but it should also be famous for its Flint-like water record, because that has everything to do with the place being a one-party blue city.

Steve Hanke is a Johns Hopkins University professor of applied economics who is best known for his monetary expertise, but he's actually one of the world's top experts on water resource management, with massive research on how water is managed and mismanaged.  His international water experience is in developed countries such as France, Australia, and Israel.  But the Baltimore mismanagement must have reminded him more of the third-world basket cases he's advised in monetary matters.  Baltimore's blue-city water mismanagement would give those places a run for their money.

The Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission invited him to testify on why poor and minority residents of Baltimore have such high water bills and such bad service.

He explained to them that the problem was in the city's unimproved infrastructure (dating from 1855), its mismanaged finances, and its failure to privatize its resources.  Baltimore actually has a clause in its constitution stating that the city's water can never be privatized — which means the city's water problems can never be fixed to anything resembling normalcy, based on what's known about how to fix such things.

The overall deterioration of the systems, inadequate capital management, and operation problems are symptomatic of the fact that the Baltimore City Department of Public Works lacks proper accounts, including a balance sheet. Despite these glaring flaws, the systems have been politicized and are now protected by an amendment to the Baltimore City Charter that prohibits the assistance of privatize enterprise and markets in addressing Baltimore's endemic water and wastewater problems by tapping the competency and skills available in the private marketplace. In order to reverse the politicization of Baltimore's water system, which will only make operation and capital mismanagement problems worse as well as increase costs for the citizens of Baltimore, the charter amendment must be eliminated[.]

That's his conclusion from a big piece he wrote for a scholarly water journal called Water Economics & Policy based on his testimony and the research that came of it.  It's set to come out for the April issue.  He sent me an advance galley of the article.  The details would make anyone blanch.

How bad is the infrastructure?

Well, Baltimore has had 4,234 water main breaks over a three year period from 2015 to 2018, according to one study.  By contrast, New York City, whose water system is even older, but which is relatively well maintained, had a mere 347 breaks with a system more than three times the size of Baltimore's that serves five times as many people.

How much water did they lose?  Turns out a lot — 26% of it, with another 2% unbilled, so no revenue from that. 

He found that the city resisted audits of its water waste and then fought letting them go public when there were audits. Seems they were hiding something.

Then there were the billing issues.  Meters were broken, and 95% of requests for repairs drew no response from the city.  That meant no bills went out at all, costing enormous revenue.  Sound like some kind of politics, based on who didn't get billed?  Quite possibly.

He also found that the system was vulnerable to hacking.

Wastewater was a total disaster as well.  In 2004, there were 622 sewage backups.  In 2015, there were more than 5,000.  Naturally, sewage was all over the waterways, and dead fish were all over too as algae bloomed, according to media reports. The city was slapped with a federal consent decree to clean it up, and it turned out the city had no complete map of its actual wastewater pipes and no idea of their condition.

Nor did they have a...balance sheet.  The city's Department of Public Works was spending 56% of its operating budget on water and wastewater, which is a huge proportion, equivalent to the size of the city's police force, and these guys didn't even have a balance sheet.  Blue-city politics, see?  Looks a lot like third world politics.  A passage:

After all, our view is the same as that of the high priest of economic theory and Nobelist Sir John Hicks: there is nothing more important than a balance sheet (Klamer 1989). But, as it turns out, the Baltimore DPW does not even have a balance sheet in its possession. We know this because we engaged in an attempt to obtain those records. It is worth elaborating on those efforts.

In early January 2022, we began to contact a variety of personnel employed by Baltimore City via telephone. On January 20, 2022, after many calls, we were finally directed to submit a written request under the Maryland Public Information Act in order to review or obtain copies of records in the custody of the Baltimore City DPW. So, on January 21, 2022 we submitted a request for the DPW's dis- aggregated balance sheet to the DPW's Public Information Act representative via email. After a follow-up email sent on January 25th, we received a response confirming receipt of our request. Then, finally, on February 7, 2022, after another email inquiring as to the status of our request, we received notice that:

"In your January 21, 2022 message to the Baltimore City Department of Public Works ("DPW"), you requested a copy of DPW's disaggregated balance sheet...

This response is on behalf of DPW. After review, DPW has determined that it has no records that are responsive to your request... .You may contest this response by filing a complaint in Circuit Court pursuant to GP §4-362" (D. Lamartina, personal communication, February 7, 2022).


Blue-city politics looks even more like third-world politics than most people might imagine.

The last point he makes is that political activists fluttering around the blue-city entrenchments have made privatization a dirty word throughout the city, which politicizes the water situation hugely.  In 2018, they got voters to pass a charter amendment to the city prohibiting privatization of water resources, on the fear-factor politics that private businesses might raise prices for consumers.  They patted themselves on the back as water "heroes" when they got that done, but the end result was that poor and minority voters got worse water and more expensive water than ever, as well as a lot of third-world sewage.  Way to go, blue-city Baltimore.  A recent editorial in the wokester Baltimore Sun dismissed privatization as "off the table."  They didn't understand that that was the problem.

What we have here is a city that can't solve its problems, can't even release a basic audit or balance sheet, let alone keep a working map of the city in its charge, yet it blames the private sector for its own corruption and incompetence and uses that to entrench itself further.

Here's the way Baltimore's mayor laid blame for the wastewater takeover:

"The Back River and Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plants have had issues that long predate my administration," [Baltimore Mayor Brandon ] Scott said. 

He seems to think someone else did it, despite the fact that Baltimore has been in blue control since World War II and that's his party.

It's like Flint cubed.  Of course, it's a cautionary tale about the dangers of one-party blue cities for the rest of the country, which isn't run as badly as this.  But the scary thing about it is that we can see that within the U.S., the blue cities aren't all that different from third-world hellholes, and voters are less cognizant of this than they realize.  When this blue-city model is taken national, as the Biden administration is trying to do, the result is not going to be at al different in the long run from what we see in Baltimore and all the third-world basket cases it's mirroring. 

Image: Pixabay, Pixabay License.

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