May 18, 2009
On May 7, a 22-inch water main burst in downtown Washington D.C. A few months before, a 66-inch water main had burst in a Washington suburb. The flooding was so bad that some people had to be rescued by helicopter.
In Washington, D.C. the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission, which oversees the District of Columbia and the Maryland suburbs nearest to Washington, had not inspected the line that burst – nor hundreds of other miles of pipes – in more than 10 years. Last year, they had more than 2,000 water pipe breaks.
Aging water and sewer pipes and lack of maintenance personnel are afflicting cities everywhere.
In February a 30-inch water pipe burst in downtown Baltimore, closing offices, businesses and streets. In April a 20-inch water main burst in downtown Baltimore with similar results. One of the Baltimore water pipes that broke was more than 100 years old!
Baltimore’s system had continually burst (5,000 times in the past four years), sending sewage into its streams and water system. Like many other cities, Baltimore has been under a federal court order to spend a billion dollars over 10 years to upgrade its water system.
Under the Clean Water Act of 1972, we are supposedly guaranteed safe drinking water and contained sewage. When the act was passed, Congress put in the funding so that the federal government was paying 78% of waste water treatment costs. States and local municipalities paid the rest.
Three decades later, the federal government only pays THREE%, according to the testimony of the executive director of the National Resource Defense Council to Congress in 2007. So states and cities – that is, residents – everywhere have to come up with the rest of the funding.
Baltimore residents got a 13% increase on water and sewage after the federal lawsuit. An additional 9% increase is coming this July. The average Baltimore household is paying $69 a month for water and sewers.
The WSSC got a 9% increase from residents, also to start July 1. And since January 1, 2005, every household in Maryland has paid an extra $7.50 per quarter “flush tax,” toward water and sewer repairs.
Instead of the government using our tax money to provide the services we need, it cuts the funding. So at the very moment more money is needed to replace aging infrastructure, it goes – by the trillions – to the banks and investment firms. Those who can least afford it already pay way too much.
Maybe Congress ought to have a little of that garbage and sewage directed their way.