Tim Carwile, the general manager of the Lakeview Utility District directed my attention to a bill recently introduced in the state legislature. HB2669 was introduced by Representative Michael McDonald (D) with the senate companion SB3044 sponsored by James Kyle (D) and Steve Roller (D).
The bill dubbed the Drinking Water Access and Resources Planning Act of 2008 would require all counties, by December 31, 2008, to establish a water management planning council. This council would include: the county mayor or the mayor’s designee; a representative from each public water system, and one representative from each municipality in the county which does not operate a public water system.
The councils would be charged with the task of identifying under served or unserved areas and developing a coordinated plan or strategy for delivering water to those areas in the most cost-effective manner possible.
Each year, the council would review this plan and prioritize water system improvement projects. This information would be submitted to the state with “grant points” and maybe smiley face stickers awarded for those who do a good job.
As of 2010, if any council fails to submit their paperwork, the counties, municipalities and utility districts served by that council, would be barred from the state cookie jar of grant-money goodness.
Considering there are thousands of Tennesseans in rural areas, who remain without a source of safe drinking water (think third world country, bathing in the creek conditions here) and neither the state nor local governments have any plans in place to address the problem: the legislation sounds reasonable.
It places responsibility for identifying and responding to local needs where it belongs – on the counties, cities and local utility providers. It forces cooperation and creates penalties for those who continue to ignore the problem.
Such a collaborative effort would eliminate issues arising from competing or duplicative projects, promote effective management of local resources and maximize use of available state and federal funding. (Considering the estimated price tag for extending water lines to all of TN’s rural residents is $1.7 billion – I’m guessing “maximizing use” might be the way to go here.)
Of course, the formation of an inclusive planning council explains Carwile’s interest.
Over the past 18 months or so, Carwile has made countless albeit unwelcome attempts to familiarize himself with Rogersville’s public water system – a system, from which Lakeview purchases water. Last year when Carwile requested to view a copy of Rogersville’s water distribution map, his request was promptly denied – on the basis that this information was protected under anti-terrorism legislation. City Attorney Bill Phillips finally advised Carwile in no uncertain terms to mind his own business.
As you might imagine, these acerbic retorts combined with Carwile’s tendency to oppose town officials, ask pointed questions and note alleged inadequacies out loud where other people could hear have turned the whole mess into one of the town’s more notable pissing contests.
The passage of McDonald’s bill would grant Carwile access to information he has previously been denied and allow him input in the planning process: thereby ending the contest with Carwile being the clear winner.
There’s just a small problem. The proposed legislation declares public water systems in each county shall finance maps, reports and what have you – it also says “in conjunction with any funds appropriated by the general assembly. The general assembly may appropriate funds… to carry out functions under this section. Funds? What funds? I take it we’re not talking about the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund or Community Development Block grant program anymore – but a separate account with actual money? What Money? Appropriated from where?
Once I know these things, I might assign the bill a high degree of wonderfulness.
HOWEVER, I reserve the right to be pissed off about it – because had local government been genuinely concerned with providing water to their rural communities- they would have taken the initiative here, pulled their heads out of their respective asses and formed some type of plan instead of waiting for the state to mandate it. Alas, they were preoccupied with lawsuits, boundaries, pissing contests, and coming up with 101 ways to thwart the imaginary terrorist next door until we needed a new state-administered “Plan or Else” program, which like all other state-administered programs will require money.
So basically, we’re paying the government to govern the government to ensure they govern effectively.