Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Mayor Catherine Pugh

Expressing her support for efforts to bar the privatization of Baltimore's water system, Mayor Catherine Pugh says she is "determined to do everything possible to protect this vital resource and ensure that it remains reliable, clean, and plentiful." (Photo: @MayorPugh50/Twitter)

Celebrations as Baltimore Set to Become First Major American City to Outlaw Water Privatization

"Baltimore will be a public water hero when this legislation passes—and should act as an example for other cities."

Jessica Corbett

Human rights advocates and union workers are celebrating as Baltimore is poised to become the first major American city to amend its charter to bar privatization of the public water system.

Baltimore's City Council on Monday approved a charter amendment that deems the water supply and sewer systems "inalienable," and prohibits the sale or lease of the systems. The vote was nearly unanimous—one council member reportedly recused herself and another was absent.

"Access to clean and affordable water should be looked at as a basic human right," asserted City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who waived council rules to fast-track the vote. "I have always been a proponent of retaining our city's assets, which is why I am completely opposed to the privatization of Baltimore's water system."

The amendment must be signed by Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh—who has expressed her support for it—by Aug. 13 before residents get the final say through a ballot measure vote in November.

The council's move on Monday came as a loud retort to years of lobbying by corporations interested in Baltimore's water system—including the French company Suez Environment, which spent several weeks of last year pitching a takeover to city officials. Human rights advocates have fiercely opposed the privatization proposals.

"Such a loss of local control can result in skyrocketing water bills, escalating water shutoff rates, downsizing public sector jobs, and deteriorating service quality," noted Rianna Eckel, a Maryland organizer with Food & Water Watch.

"Water privatization is simply unethical, immoral, and dangerous," Eckel concluded. "Baltimore will be a public water hero when this legislation passes—and should act as an example for other cities."

"It is time for Baltimore to set the precedent for cities across the country," declared Glen Middleton, a local AFSCME leader. Members of the union operate the city's water system and have vocally opposed privatization, which Middleton warns would not only "increase water rates across the city," but also "deprive low-income communities and communities of color access to clean and safe water."

Baltimore is not alone in its battle against water privatization, as ThinkProgress outlined:

Atlanta's water privatization deal with United Water 20 years ago is now considered a textbook case against such efforts. The deal ended after only four years amid evidence of rising costs and poor water quality. More recently, New Orleans residents have actively lobbied against similar attempts to privatize their water, while activists have protested related efforts in Puerto Rico as the island struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria last fall.

While the Baltimore measure is being hailed as revolutionary, both as an amendment to the charter and because of the city's size—the latest Census estimate puts the population over 611,000—the Baltimore Sun pointed out that in 2016, the City Council of Northampton, Massachusetts approved a similar ordinance that bars the sale or lease of its water system to prevent privatization.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

AOC Slams Conservative Dems Who Would Rather Skip Town Than Vote to Extend Eviction Ban

"We cannot in good faith blame the Republican Party when House Democrats have the majority."

Jake Johnson ·


'A Devastating Failure': Eviction Ban Expires as House Goes on Vacation and Biden Refuses to Act

"We’re now in an eviction emergency," said Rep. Cori Bush. "Eleven million are now at risk of losing their homes at any moment. The House needs to reconvene and put an end to this crisis."

Jake Johnson ·


With Election Days Away, Bernie Sanders Headlines Get-Out-the-Vote Rally for Nina Turner

In his keynote speech, Sanders said corporate interests are pulling out all the stops to defeat Turner because "they know that when she is elected, she is going to stand up and take them on in the fight for justice."

Jake Johnson ·


Bush, Pressley, and Omar Sleep Outside Capitol to Demand Extension of Eviction Moratorium

Rep. Cori Bush, who was formerly unhoused, slammed her Democratic colleagues who "chose to go on vacation early today rather than staying to vote to keep people in their homes."

Jake Johnson ·


As Progressives Call for End to Blockade, Biden Announces More Sanctions Against Cuba

The move comes after Democratic leadership in the House blocked an amendment to roll back limits on how much money people in the United States can send to family on the island nation.

Jessica Corbett ·