By Peter Chawaga
The latest legislation meant to solve the fundamental water system problems in Jackson, Mississippi could totally transform responsibility for its management.
“The bill would transfer ownership to a new public entity overseen by a nine-member board, the majority of which would be appointed by state leaders,” the Associated Press reported. “The bill … would transfer water, wastewater and storm water services provided by Jackson to a new public utility district’s ‘ownership, management and control’ after an interim manager appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee the water system concludes his work.”
Jackson’s water system problems garnered national attention last year after 180,000 residents lost access to running water following excessive rainfall. The fallout has raised questions about consumer trust and spurred calls for new management of the system, including potential privatization.
Now, this latest proposed solution to the issue is under consideration by the Mississippi State Senate and, if approved, would see the creation of a utility authority featuring a nine-member board appointed by various local and state officials.
“Four (board) appointments would be reserved for the Jackson mayor, but he would be required to ‘consult’ with mayors of nearby Byram and Ridgeland on two of those appointments,” according to AP. “The governor would make three appointments to the board, and the lieutenant governor would make two. All nine appointments would need to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled state Senate.”
While it’s clear that the former management of Jackson’s water, wastewater, and stormwater systems failed its residents, a proposed utility board influenced by state-level leaders gives some in the city pause over how their interests will be protected.
“A regional authority, any way you measure it up, in essence will be state control,” said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, per the Clarion Ledger. “You deal with the threat of the revenue being siphoned off to priorities which may not be the highest priority to the repairs and improvement to the system for the residents of Jackson. And so that remains a concern.”
It’s hard to imagine any management change leaving Jackson’s public systems worse off than they were last year, but residents have good reason for skepticism when it comes to those entrusted with their public health.
To read more about how water systems are operated, visit Water Online’s Asset Management Solutions Center.