In order to recover more than $40 million in back payments, the Baltimore Department of Public Works (DPW) is beginning to cut service to overdue accounts both in the city and the county. Since the beginning of April, the DPW has shut off service to more than 1,600 residential customers and recouped more than $5 million in past due water bill payments. Despite a significant revenue loss, the DPW has received criticism from human rights groups claiming that many of Baltimore’s residents are simply unable to afford water and sewer service.
“Baltimore has high levels of poverty and unemployment,” said Food & Water Watch Baltimore Organizer Julie Gouldener. “Add the fact that Baltimore’s water rates have more than tripled in the last 15 years, and you have a water affordability problem that won’t be fixed by cutting off service to low-income households.” The non-profit consumer rights group claims that the targeting of residential accounts is representative of a larger social issue: more than one-third of the city’s residents cannot afford water and sewer service.
More than 21,000 accounts in the City of Baltimore collectively owe $28 million. An additional $12 million is being sought from 4,000 accounts throughout Baltimore County. According to the Baltimore Department of Public Works, the majority of the funds have been recovered from residential accounts. However, only $1 million that has been collected is from commercial accounts, even though businesses are responsible for $15 million of the $40 million in unpaid water and sewer charges. After months, and in some cases years of bills not being paid, city officials decided it was time to act.
“We want to make sure all of our citizens pay their fair share”, Public Works Director Rudy Chow said in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. “When we don’t collect the necessary revenue, it causes us to raise water rates as a result. The citizens who are paying their bills are in effect, subsidizing those who are not paying.”
Since 2000, water and sewer rates have more than tripled within the City of Baltimore. The rate increase is primarily due to the city’s need to improve the combined 5,000 miles of sewer and water lines, of which 60 percent are more than 50 years old. An additional 11% increase has been approved and is expected to begin in July.
 Food & Water Watch, Food & Water Watch Press Release, “One-Third of Baltimore Residents Can’t Afford Ever Increasing Water Rates”. http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/pressreleases/one-third-of-baltimore-residents-cant-afford-ever-increasing-water-rates/
 Sweeney, Baltimore Brew, “$5 Million in Back Water Bills, Recovered, Mostly from Residential Users.” https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2015/05/11/5-million-in-back-water-bills-recovered-mostly-from-residential-users/
 Young, Baltimore Sun, ”Baltimore to Send Water Turn-Off Notices to 25,000 Delinquent Customers.” http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-water-bills-20150326-story.html