Skip to content
Future of Jackson Water System Back Up...

Future of Jackson Water System Back Up for Debate in Mississippi Senate

By: Sarah Ulmer - February 22, 2024

FILE - Mississippi state Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, speaks during a debate at the state Capitol on Feb. 7, 2023, in Jackson, Miss. On Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann named Parker as the new chairman of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee, which will give Parker influence over creating a new initiative process for Mississippi. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

  • State Sen. David Parker said his goal is to find a long-term solution to the water issues that have plagued the Jackson area prior to the termination of the federal appointed interim manager’s position.

After ongoing issues with its municipal water system prompted state and federal intervention, the City of Jackson’s authority to operate and maintain the utility has come under fire in recent years. The debate reemerged this week in the Mississippi State Senate.

State Senator David Parker (R), chairman of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, and Transparency Committee, filed a bill for the second year in a row to create the Mississippi Capitol Region Utility Authority which would ultimately remove the city’s authority over the municipal water and wastewater system and place it under an appointed board.

Senator David Blount

Similar to last year, the legislation was met with displeasure by Jackson area lawmakers.

“Here we go again,” said State Senator David Blount (D), a 17-year lawmaker. “This is a bill that is focused solely on where I live, where I represent, and this is my first time seeing it.”

Blount largely expressed frustration over a lack of involvement and conversation regarding the bill. He said it is unprecedented for a lawmaker who represents a community to not be included on a piece of legislation that will drastically impact the area he represents.  

Sen. Blount pointed out issues with Parker’s bill, including a lack of recognition for the City of Byram that receives its water from Jackson and special provisions for the City of Ridgeland.

Chairman Parker, in his opening remarks on the bill, said he believed the 2023 legislation was presented “too early.” According to Blount, the 2024 bill is still before its time. He said the basic impact of the bill is nothing for a minimum of three or four years.

“Federal court has control of the Jackson water system, not the City of Jackson, not the mayor, not the City Council. Judge [Henry] Wingate has appointed Ted Henifin as third-party operator to run the system, and I think he’s doing a good job,” said Senator Blount.

In November 2022, the Department of Justice filed a complaint with the City of Jackson due to a failure to provide safe and reliable drinking water to its citizens. After that filing, a third-party interim manager was appointed by the federal government in Ted Henifin. Henifin has been overseeing the city’s water system since that time and has since taken over the wastewater portion as well.

Senator Blount told members of the legislative committee that when it is time for Henifin to be dismissed of his oversight, that the people of Jackson will say, “I like this better,” then giving representatives of the area the opportunity to provide a solution.

“When it’s time to come to a solution, that solution needs to come from the people that live here,” said Blount.

Senator Parker responded to Blount, saying in 2023, the Jackson Senator never approached him to discuss the legislation or work through potential solutions after it was introduced. Parker went on to add that his door is always open to discuss the issue.

“I take issue at the fact that someone does not have the right to bring up an issue related to the capital city because they weren’t born there and lived there their entire life. I’m going to continue to bring this issue up,” said Parker.

The 2024 bill is nearly identical to the legislation proposed in 2023, which ultimately died on the calendar. However, the changes this year include providing the option to purchase the water and wastewater assets at fair market value as determined by the federal court. This option to purchase can only be provided if all existing system debt is paid off.

To achieve a debt payoff, the Legislature would authorize local water authorities, through the Department of Environmental Quality, to enter into a loan at an interest rate of 0% for a 40-year term.

“For the benefit of the citizens centrally located in the State of Mississippi, including citizens residing or working in the capital city of the State of Mississippi, it is essential to have access to safe, clean and reliable water and wastewater systems at affordable, regulated rates which are just, reasonable and provide an adequate amount of capital to keep such systems in good repair,” the legislation reads.  

Parker said his goal is to find a long-term solution to the water issues that have plagued the Jackson area prior to the termination of the interim manager’s position.

“We know that many improvements have been made, but we also know there is still years of work ahead,” said Senator Parker.

The proposed utility region would be comprised of geographic areas that receive water and wastewater services from the City of Jackson. It will function as a non-profit authority and reside under the purview of state leadership. The utility authority would be comprised of nine members to be appointed by the Governor (5) and Lt. Governor (4). There are qualifications for each of the appointed members.

Parker’s bill – SB 2628 – passed out of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, and Transparency Committee on Wednesday. It now heads to the Senate floor for consideration by the full body.

About the Author(s)
author profile image

Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state. Email Sarah: