United States

Senate committee advances bill to create new water authority for Jackson

(The Center Square) — A Mississippi bill that would take over the operation of the Jackson’s embattled water and sewer system and hand it to a regional authority passed a Senate committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 2889, authored by Senate Economic and Workforce Development Chairman David Parker, R-Olive Branch, would create the Mississippi Capitol Region Utility Authority to manage the city’s sewer and water systems. It also supplies the neighboring city of Byram and a few customers in the city of Ridgeland on the border between the two communities.

Under Parker’s bill, the regional authority would come into existence once the federal government’s takeover of the water system ends via court order. Its purpose would be to construct, maintain and operate the city’s water and sewer system.

The new water authority board would have nine members. Four would be appointed by the mayor of Jackson and approved by the state Senate. The mayors of Byram and Ridgeland would be consulted on two of the four appointments, while the governor and the lieutenant governor would appoint three and two members respectively, subject to the approval of the state Senate.

The board members would have to be ratepayers within the system boundaries, and have significant, demonstrated experience in business management, fiscal affairs, public health or public utilities.

The board would be required to appoint a president to serve at the will of the board and the state would pay his salary if the transition to the authority’s ownership of the water system was not complete.

Parker told the committee his extensive Jackson ties, including having a daughter who lives near the University of Mississippi Medical Center, have educated him on the help needed for Jackson’s water system.

“My daughter lives in a fairly modern apartment complex and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go down to the swimming pool to fill it with water so I can flush a toilet,” Parker told the committee. “You need basic necessities that you take for granted.”

He said that in some of his discussions with potential new companies that the perception that the state doesn’t have clean, reliable water isn’t helping the state recruit new industries.

Jackson is under investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for problems with its water supply. The problems include multiple boil water notices, failed inspections and issues with both of the city’s two treatment plants and contaminants. A boil water notice last year lasted from July 29 to Sept. 16.

A third-party administrator has been appointed to handle the city’s water system and get it up to federal standards. The city will also receive $600 million in federal funds to repair long-standing issues, including line breaks and long-deferred maintenance and repairs on the city’s two treatment plants.

The sewer system has been under an EPA consent decree since 2012 over the dumping of raw sewage during heavy rain events into the nearby Pearl River.

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