MDEQ has stirred up a hornet nest

Published 3:28 pm Thursday, November 3, 2011

It’s difficult sometimes to get a handle on some stories since we, the general public, are not privy to all the information that insiders are privy, too. It makes for an interesting stew, and keeping the public in the dark, or dumb, is beneficial to some persons who are trying to get what they want approved.

For instance, the current controversy over the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s effort to amend state groundwater regulations is a prime example.

Essentially, what I gather is that the proposed MDEQ amendments to groundwater regulations would give MDEQ the authority to deny proposed water well drilling permits, deny re-permits of existing wells, and in some cases, force mergers between rural associations and county utility authorities and city systems, when MDEQ determines the decision would use public funds “efficiently,” and reduce costs to customers.

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But critics of the proposal, mostly rural water association officials and members, reply, “Have you ever seen government run anything in an efficient manner and, at the same time, reduce costs to users?”

Rural water association officials say that, overall, they have run the rural water associations responsibly and efficiently. The associations were mostly financed, some decades ago, with USDA- backed loans. Many associations are debt free with thousands of customers, making for a good cash flow. Central water association, based in Carriere and McNeill, has been in existence for 40 years. I understand these rural water associations are publicly owned, non-profit entities, not government- owned entities.

Some rural association officials say the new utility authorities want their customers because they don’t have the customer base to support what has been an overexpansion with government grants to county utility authorities. I don’t know how you could verify this unless you audited each county utility authority set up since Katrina.

Poor George County opted out of the government funding post-Katrina for revamping its utility systems, hoping, evidently, to have more control over the process, and it still got lumped into the proposed six counties that the regulations would cover. So much for ending government control by refusing government handouts!

Also, opponents of the MDEQ amendments say targeting the lower six Mississippi counties — Pearl River, Stone, George, Harrison, Hancock and Jackson — is just the first step. They say, if it is successfully implemented in the lower six counties, it will be extended statewide.

MDEQ says that regulating all the different associations and utility entities to make sure that water supply services are not duplicated, and that public funds are expended wisely and efficiently (there’s that word again), is what it is seeking to do with the proposed new amendments.

But you have perhaps hundreds of rural water associations throughout the six-county South Mississippi area, that through local community sacrifice and unselfish public service by mostly volunteers, established these associations and serve literally tens of thousands of customers, with really low rates. Central water association at Carriere has some of the lowest rates in the state and has 6,000 customers.

Now a bunch of bureaucrats are going to come in and say, “You merge with this one over there, and you can’t drill this well, and that association can drill that well over there.”

You can see how this would really stir up a hornet nest, which is what has happened.

I would like to know what bureaucrat hatched this plan. I mean, who thinks up these proposals? Somebody, somewhere, had to sit down with his compatriots, over a cold beer, and say, “Now this is what we need down there in South Mississippi, and this is how we are going to do it.” But the one unknown as always: “How will the public react? What public response will we get?”

Right now, you can bet somebody somewhere in the bureacracy is scratching his head and wondering how he is going to tamp down a rising chorus against MDEQ’s proposals.

We really have no protection against these huge regulatory agencies, like the federal EPA, and, yes, MDEQ, too, although I know there are honest, hardworking bureaucrats in MDEQ, who approach their job as a public trust.

These decisions being contemplated will impact the water rates you pay in the future. You better get interested in it and don’t ignore it.

Our elected officials, who are close to us, like the supervisors, our city board and our legislators, are our only hope of putting pressure on these huge bureaucracies, which now dominate our government landscape.

If these amendments are adopted, it will move further away from you your ability to influence rates. Some faceless operative ensconced in an office a long way off will be setting your rates, not your local board.

The Tuesday hearing at PRCC was a good start for getting citizens re-engaged.