Barbour signs bill creating regional water authority

GULFPORT – Gov. Haley Barbour has signed into law a bill creating the Gulf Region Water Utility Authority Act.

Backers said it will bring more efficient water, sewer, and storm water systems for South Mississippi.

The new law creates six individual county authorities for Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River, Stone and George counties. It allows local control over development of water and sewer systems.

The legislation was an outgrowth of the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewals recommendations.

Barbour said Tuesday that it takes a regional approach to managing water and sewer utility services.

A federal grant of $600 million, awarded in the aftermath of Hurricane, will help pay for the improvements.

The bill took effect with the governor’s signature.

Regional water and sewerage planning for growth into rural areas, and federal funding, Barbour said, will be essential. He said decades from now, a regional utility system will be viewed as a watershed.

He also said county governments’ initial fears of the regional water push in the Legislature might have been misplaced.

“I don’t think anybody wants to be responsible for your garbage and sewage,” Barbour told local officials at Tuesday’s signing ceremony in Gulfport.

“Nobody wants to take that responsibility away from you. But I do know that the federal government won’t give us the money if we’re just running around willy-nilly and not taking a regional approach. We got to checking and realized no county here had a countywide water and sewer district.”

The initial legislation would have created a regional authority that had broad control over water and sewerage development in South Mississippi. County supervisors opposed this, and agreed only to a much more limited regional board that leaves true control to local governments. The bill also left an “opt-out” clause for any county boards of supervisors that vote against joining.

“There was a lot of give-and-take,” said Jackson County Supervisor Manly Barton. “Really a lot of things the governor’s staff and DEQ thought were innocuous were big concerns to supervisors. At the end of the day I think we got a pretty good bill.”