Business organization calls on the creation of a regional water authority to govern Jackson water

Water distribution in the city of Jackson.
Water distribution in the city of Jackson.(Rogelio V. Solis | AP)
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 9:42 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership is calling on the creation of a regional authority to govern Jackson’s water system.

In a letter sent to local, state and Congressional leaders Tuesday, the group that represents 1,400 businesses recommended several steps to reform the city system amid an ongoing water crisis that left tens of thousands of customers without water earlier this month.

Among steps, chamber leaders are calling on the creation of a “regional utility service model within the existing service area.”

“Regional governance is a model that has proven to work in other parts of Mississippi and across the country,” Chamber President and CEO Jeff Rent wrote. “Jackson’s utility system serves Byram, parts of rural Hinds County, Ridgeland, and eastern Madison County. Allow members of the regional authority to share power and responsibility.”

Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee said the letter is incorrect, and that no part of the city is served by Jackson water.

Under the authority, all governmental agencies served by the Jackson system would have representatives on a board. The board, in turn, would be responsible for setting rates, collecting bills, and addressing infrastructure needs.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in an interview with Roland Martin on Monday, the day before the chamber’s letter was released, that he does not support the idea.

Martin, a nationally known podcaster and MSNBC contributor, was interviewing the mayor as part of a Livestream event for the Poor Peoples’ Campaign.

“The last option they’ve put out is the option of regionalizing, saying you need more ratepayers on the system in order to maintain it,” Lumumba said. “On the surface, it makes sense. But when you think about it a little more critically, it entirely breaks down... As we look at a regionalization model, what you have to understand is that when you bring in those other cities, yeah, you have more people that are paying into the system, but... you expand the perimeter of your responsibilities. Now you have to take care of their plants... You have to take care of all their infrastructure problems.”

Meanwhile, he said that under a regional system, Jackson’s infrastructure would likely not be prioritized in favor of other authority members.

Whether other municipalities would want to join an authority with Jackson also remains to be seen. The city of Bryam, which is served by Jackson, is attempting to come off of Jackson water.

The chamber goes on to say that the state should have representation on the board but should not be the owner and operator.

“The recent failure of Jackson’s water system has touched every home and adversely affected every business in the city,” Rent wrote. “This water crisis also is affecting communities outside of Jackson and the entire state and inhibiting our ability to attract new companies and residents to the Magnolia State.”

Jackson’s water crisis began on August 29, when equipment failures at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant caused water production to fall dramatically. As a result, pressure in the system fell, and many customers were left without water or water pressure.

Curtis serves approximately 43,000 connections. The plant, which is located in Ridgeland near the Barnett Reservoir, is authorized to treat up to 50 million gallons of water a day through its two treatment processes. However, on August 31, the plant produced just 16 million gallons, according to Mississippi Emergency Management Association figures.

The chamber joins others who also have called on the creation of a regional authority, including Rep. Shanda Yates. “It is woefully apparent that the city does not possess the resources to address the current emergency nor to properly maintain the water/sewer system going forward,” she wrote in a September 1 letter. “As such, it is time for the state to take an active role in solving this public health crisis.”

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