CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial, Friday, Aug. 8, 1997

Tupelo and Lee County waited almost until the wells ran dry in the 1980s before seeking legislative approval for the Northeast Mississippi Regional Water Supply District and a way to pay for its $21 million distribution network.

The district, which draws water from the Tombigbee River in Itawamba County supplies water for Tupelo and several other water systems in Lee County, including important industrial properties.

Its creation came about because the aquifer underneath Tupelo was being depleted so fast a cone shaped depression developed in the water supply. The depletion threatened residential and commercial growth as well as maintaining adequate supplies for those already on the old system.

The water district, whose special sales-tax-backed funding was approved by a countywide mandate, came on line in 1991. It hasn't operated without occasional controversy, but it keeps the water flowing steadily and in abundance.

The district's unveiled a plan this week to expand the distribution system and flow capacity by 50 percent by 2000. The plan, explained Tuesday to the Tupelo City Council and the Lee County Board of Supervisors, would raise pumping capacity to 18 million gallons a day. Current use is at 10.7 million gallons on a 12 million gallon capacity.

The district's anticipation of need moves toward heading off the kind of crisis in which the city and county found itself in the 1980s. It also positions the district to expand to 24 million gallons per day when that need arises, and there's no reason to plan otherwise in the face of potential growth.

Water, taken for granted as long as the pipes flow, is the most valuable and precious of natural resources. Everybody needs it, and its abundance assures the possibility of a diverse economic base. It's possible, of course to have plenty of water and never tap its potential. It is worse, with more acute impact, to have the energy and plan for growth and not have enough water.

The district autonomous and independent within its financial capacity needs to keep open good communications and relations with the council and the county board. Its meeting with those bodies Tuesday lays out answers on the front end. It provides a generous time frame in which to assure adequate financing from its own resources and/or, possibly, state and federal sources. The city's and county's elected leaders can be helpful in acquiring appropriate financing as it is needed.

Lee County and Tupelo needn't go through another water crisis. The lessons learned before 1991 brought us to the brink of an economic blockade imposed by the state Department of Health and the limits of how much water we could guarantee new residents and industries.

The water district's foresight should prevent additional water worries far into the 21st century.

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