Over the last few years it’s become perfectly clear that homeowners cannot take the basic utilities that provide services to their house for granted. Whether it’s the sanitary sewer or septic lines, gray water drains, or the water service that comes into your home, we’ve seen spectacular failures in public systems that have had major effects on quality of life, health, and property value.

1) Flint, Michigan is only the most publicized water system failure. There have been and probably will be many more around the country. Since most consumers only pay attention to water quality when there is a problem, its good to note that the Baltimore public water supply conducts annual tests and releases them to the public. Here’s the good news: according to the DPW’s most recent testing in 2017, “Baltimore’s drinking water meets or exceeds all federal drinking water standards.”

2) Have you switched to bottled water? Depending upon the brand, that may be a mistake. Some bottled waters simply use what comes out of the tap in the neighborhood where the plant is located – and that may not be as good as what comes out of your tap!

For those who actually buy “spring water,” it’s good to remember that many of what we consider contaminants actually originate in the erosion of natural deposits in the ground (arsenic, for example) so spring water may be higher in these contaminants than treated water. Here’s the bad news: some bottled waters do not meet the federal drinking standards … and at the present time, they don’t have to.

To get a background in what bottled water may contain,. Would you like to know the names of two brands, available at stores in this area, that did not meet acceptable safety standards for various chemicals?

3) So, if the drinking water in Baltimore already meets safety standards, why do my water bills keep rising? The issue in the city (and areas in the surrounding counties on city water) is not the water supply system so much as it is the sewer and rain runoff systems. The current sewer system underwent a huge overhaul in the aftermath of the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Public health in the city, which was one of the worst among big cities before, very swiftly became one of the best – with the most modern system of any American metropolis. Essentially, that’s the infrastructure we have in place now, a century later.

When everything functioned as it should, the sewer system was a separate system from gray water and street drains. Unfortunately, as the system aged, that no longer was the case. Leaky pipes, heavy rains that overflow, sewage backups into basements … are commonplace. They are the primary reason water in the Inner Harbor is unsafe and that pollution filters out to the Chesapeake Bay.

Last year the city embarked on a $1.6 billion, 13-year plan to overhaul the system and make it a modern system once again. And we, as ratepayers, will pay a good portion of those costs, with Federal and state monies (again our money, at least in part) covering the rest. That’s one reason why the city changed the billing system and started sending invoices monthly instead of quarterly.

So the next time that water bill comes in, at least you can be thankful that you don’t live in Flint or one of the other cities with drinking water issues, and you won’t have that concern when it comes time to sell your home. Your family has safe water to drink, and your local water authority is financing the improvements necessary to modernize the entire system and – eventually – clean up local waterways.