Baltimore residents spoke out against a water bill rate increase at an August Board of Estimates meeting. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun video)
"Read the bill." It's a common refrain directed at lawmakers, but in this case, Richard J. Douglas ("Blame Md.'s congressional delegation for Baltimore's water woes," Oct. 19) should try reading the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) before making unfounded accusations about what is or is not included. What would he find in the comprehensive 600-page bill? That the Senate-passed language, much of it pulled directly from legislation I have authored, will indeed "put significant federal money into Baltimore's storm water/sewage infrastructure."
WRDA is a hard-fought conclusion to a years-long process to help people by putting real money into real programs in Baltimore and around Maryland that will help address combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows and stormwater discharges. Side by side with Sen. Barbara Mikulski, I fought to make sure Baltimore and cities like it nationwide have the financing they need to upgrade their systems and stop dumping raw sewage into our rivers — rivers we use as a source of drinking water and to fish and swim. And yes, it will help the Chesapeake Bay oysters, which support our economy and help clean the bay's waters, but it also makes the replacement or rehabilitation of aging treatment, storage or distribution facilities and public water system security measures eligible for federal funding — activities which, until now, were solely the responsibility of a city and its taxpayers. Baltimore citizens are being asked to pay more to upgrade our system to guarantee clean, safe drinking water which is why, through WRDA, Maryland's senators have committed the federal government to enhancing its role in paying for these upgrades. The bill also redefines what it means for water to be "affordable" to help more poor and middle-class Marylanders struggling to pay their bills.
In Washington, we have heard a lot about the effects of lead contaminated water with the crisis in Flint, Mich., but Maryland's senators made sure that Baltimore's problems were not left out of the equation. It is appalling that Baltimore City Public Schools have had their drinking fountains turned off for nearly a decade because of the lead problems; WRDA will make a difference. It took hard work and some sharp elbows to keep intact $300 million over five years for Baltimore and other cities to replace lead pipes, along with testing, planning, corrosion control and education about the dangers of lead in drinking water, and it also authorizes $100 million for grants to carry out a voluntary program to test the water in schools and child care centers. This means our schools will finally receive the support they need to provide our children with clean, safe drinking water.
Mr. Douglas' wild armchair critique of WRDA fails miserably in understanding the resources this bill will bring to our state. Backed by a bipartisan 95-3 margin, we are making a much-needed "national investment in Baltimore's wastewater infrastructure."
Ben Cardin, Washington, D.C.
The writer, a Democrat, represents Maryland in the U.S. Senate and is a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.