Dec 21, 2009
On December 17, the sudden rupture of a 70-year-old 42-inch cast-iron water main turned a Baltimore residential street into a surging river. The flood caused a gas line to break, cutting off service to about 80 homes. When water pressure fell and the flow to a nearby filtration and chlorination plant dropped, all 1.8 million customers of the Baltimore system were ordered to restrict their use of water for about a day.
There have been half a dozen major breaks in the Baltimore area water system this year. There have been more than 5,000 water main breaks both big and small during the last five years. Not even counting these breaks, one fifth of all the water in the system is constantly being lost through leaks.
The main practical problem is lack of sufficient regular maintenance and upgrading of old and sometimes defective pipes. Instead of using money from Baltimore’s rapidly rising water rates for maintenance and upgrading, the city gives big businesses a big break on what they are charged for the huge amounts of water they use. Today they pay less than half as much as a typical homeowner per gallon.
The city has also spent hundreds of millions of dollars for free water main upgrades for expensive new office buildings, retail stores, condominiums and apartments in areas such as those surrounding the city’s harbor.
There is plenty of money to keep Baltimore’s water mains in good shape, but it is being diverted to subsidize big businesses and developers.