Should Baltimore County Exercise More Control Over Its Water Supply?


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BALTIMORE COUNTY - The Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the creation of a task force that would study the Baltimore area's water supply.

The task force would consist of 13 members, five appointed by the mayor, three by the county executive, two by the governor, and one each by the president of the state senate and the speaker of the house. The final member would be from either Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, or Harford County.

The water and wastewater system that provides service to ~1.8 million residents in the city and Baltimore County, as well as portions of Howard, Harford, Carroll, and Anne Arundel counties, is owned by Baltimore City.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and other county officials have a list of complaints centered around how the city handles its wastewater treatment plant in Back River. The facility has been tied to increased nutrient and bacteria levels in the Back River, degrading the county's ecosystem.

In March 2022, the state deployed employees to the plant to correct "catastrophic failures." They are expected to remain at the plant through April.

The city has faced its own water issues in recent months. In September, West Baltimore's water supply was contaminated with E. Coli bacteria causing the city to issue a boil water advisory and distribute bottled water.

A review of water and sewer operations was conducted by NewGen Strategies and Solutions LLC. in July 2021. The study recommended several changes to improve the system, including revoking the city's (nearly) exclusive management.

"Under the current governance framework, the city and the Director of Public Works are not accountable to the county's customer service delivery, system reliability or operational efficiency," the study wrote.

The report ultimately recommended that the city and county share management of critical water systems.

Another issue found by the study, and reiterated by Olszewski and Scott, is the age of the current water agreement. It was signed more than 50 years ago before either leader was born.

"Baltimore County had less than a quarter of the City's population and was largely undeveloped. No one could have anticipated the demographic shifts that would occur over the following 75 years. A new evaluation of City and County roles and responsibilities in the utility is long overdue," the report wrote. 

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