By Jack Gurner
Tired of beer? Let’s talk water.
The water and sewer system is part of the city’s infrastructure and infrastructure is a dull topic. So, bear with me. Water Valley is blessed with very good water. But, how that water is delivered and how wastewater is carried away and treated is of utmost importance to our health and safety.
The Water Valley water system’s score went down on the 2014 State Health Department inspection, not because of deficiencies in the system itself, but because city board members had not attended mandatory training.
In the most recent drinking water supply inspection report dated April 16, 2014, the Mississippi State Department of Health gave the Water Valley system a capacity rating score of 4.3 out of a possible 5.
Melissa Parker, Deputy Director, Office of Environmental Health at Mississippi Department of Health said that if the board members have not received the training by the next ground water rule survey in 2016, it will be considered a significant deficiency.
The Herald obtained drinking water supply inspection reports for both 2013 and 2014 from the Health Department and wastewater reports for the same years from the State Department of Environmental Quality by filing Freedom of Information Requests with the agencies.
Because water is high on the list of public health issues, state officials take it very seriously. Enough so that lawmakers passed the Mississippi Safe Drinking Water Act of 1997. In section 41-26-101 it states that board members shall attend a minimum of eight hours of water system management training within two years following the election of that board member. The current crop of board members came on board almost six years ago.
By law, any member failing to complete the management training within two years after his election shall be subject to removal from the board by the remaining members. That’s how seriously they take it. And that’s just for the people who never put their hands on a valve. The head of the local system, Superintendent Morris Surrette and his second in command, Assistant Superintendent David Floyd, have both received intensive training. Others in the department have also received varying degrees of instruction.
Parker told the Herald that getting board member training is pretty straightforward. “It is one day; an eight-hour class. We have training contractors who will make it very easy. It can be done over two nights from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. for board members who have other jobs.”
“You learn everything from the Safe Drinking Water Act requirements to budgeting to asset management,” she added. “It’s all encompassing, very good training.”
So, why haven’t board members taken the training? No one goes into government knowing everything they need to know to run the city (or at least most people are smart enough to know they don’t). While there are lots of educational courses in all areas of governing offered by groups like the Mississippi Municipal League, that kind of training is optional. The water management training isn’t. It is required by law.
I’ve been covering city board meetings for the past eight years and since this board came on six years ago, I don’t remember any member going to any training, optional or mandatory. A little education is a dangerous thing. Next time: water rates and the city’s wastewater treatment facility.