Baltimore’s Ongoing Disaster: Water Main Breaks

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The new Charles Street River? Photo by Lee Gardner

Maybe you were trying to drive up Charles Street to get to work this morning, only to find this crucial throughway under water — not because of a hurricane, but because a water main broke. Or maybe you (like me) woke up one morning in August to find the sidewalk outside your house had turned into a river. Or maybe you were terrified by the news of the sinkhole that opened in the middle of the street in Southwest Baltimore this summer. In any case, it’s clear by now:  Baltimore’s water mains are in terrible shape, and they’re only going to keep breaking. So what’s a city without a whole lot of extra money to spend on improving aging infrastructure to do?

Baltimore’s average of 1000 water main breaks annually are a serious drain on the city’s resources. (Philadelphia, a city more than twice the size of Baltimore, averages about 750 breaks per year.) Water main breaks damage city streets, disrupt commutes and property, divert city workers, and result in water shut-offs for thousands of city residents. “Until we have enough funds, we are going to continue to be vulnerable to things like this, and nobody wants that,” Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said back in July.

Today’s break happened at the heavy-traffic intersection of North Avenue and Charles Street, and possibly resulted in the flooding of train tracks at Penn Station. Baltimore’s water system was built during the Great Depression, and it clearly isn’t holding up well. Maybe now that we’ll have all that new casino money, we can spend some of it on making sure our streets aren’t constantly flooded — oh, wait; that money is mostly spoken for.



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