OUR OPINION: Looking at water for the future

By NEMS Daily Journal

Internal upheaval in the North Lee Water Association that boiled to the surface last week involved many factors, including alleged improper use of employees, but the most basic issues for customers remains dissatisfaction with the quality of water delivered in the 4,400-member system.
North Lee is an immediate and visible problem, but far from the only one involving rural community water systems. In the United States, 56,747 rural community water systems provide drinking water to more than 100 million people.
Their upkeep and maintenance – and updating – is a major concern nationwide and in Mississippi, where 87 percent of residents now depend on some kind of public water supply.
Private or “independent” wells have not disappeared, and most are safe if drilled correctly into the aquifer, but rural water system construction has been on-going since the 1930s, especially in the past 50 years.
Mississippi alone has about 3,000 rural water systems, and their efficiency is a major concern to customers, boards of directors and county leaders seeking economic development.
The high interest in resolving North Lee’s issues, we believe, will lead to solutions, but a broader examination by the region’s legislative delegation of the strengths and weaknesses of water systems statewide – and their capacity for growth – should be on the 2012 legislative agenda.
Among other things, national groups like Food and Water Watch are concerned that the Obama administration’s infrastructure funding plans don’t provide enough federal assistance for rural water systems.
“One major problem with the infrastructure bank is that its definition of a drinking water or wastewater infrastructure system is not the same as that in the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act,” the group said in its website. “This seemingly minor inconsistency could have severe repercussions for many small community water systems because they will now have to compete with dams, levees, solid waste disposal plants and open space management systems for funding.
“Our nation needs safe, clean, affordable water as much as it needs good jobs. While we applaud President Obama’s job creation efforts and his recognition of the role that water infrastructure improvements play in creating employment opportunities, the infrastructure bank does not go nearly far enough in solving our nation’s water woes.”
Water supply, water safety, water sanitation – all are concerns of state and federal agencies beyond the offices and maintenance shops of rural water systems.
It is important to note that last week, during the opening days of the North Lee controversy, state agencies involved included the health department, public service commission, and, reportedly, initial inquiries by the attorney general’s public integrity investigators. The Mississippi Rural Water Association also entered the situation because it has a vested interest in the strength of every member system.
Rural growth and quality of life has been enhanced by public water availability, and it should remain high on the list of concerns for elected officials at every level. Water is not only basic, it is necessary. Go to www.cdc.gov/nceh/publications/books/housing/cha08.htm for more information.