Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Residents in town of 300, without public water for over a year, getting it after investigative reporter sounds alarm

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Pushed by investigative journalism, officials installed a new well system after a reporter revealed that residents in a small Mississippi town had gone for more than a year without a public water supply.

Residents on the outskirts of Schlater, a majority-Black town of about 300, had been without clean, running water since July 2019 because of broken well pumps, forcing them to travel nearly 13 miles to get water several times a week, Aallyah Wright reports for Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news outlet.

After Wright's initial story in December about the problem, Brandon Presley, Northern District commissioner on the state's elected Public Service Commission, "conducted follow-up discussions with federal and local water agencies and local lawmakers to see what could be done to assist the families and established a two-phase plan," Wright reports.

"In May, the Mississippi Department of Human Services announced the receipt of a $63,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to build a new well," Wright reports. It took more legal wrangling, but last week Schlater residents finally celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony for the new system, which should be complete in two to three months.

At the groundbreaking, Presley celebrated the success story, but voiced worry that other small towns are "falling through the cracks" because they aren't getting the same kind of attention, Wright reports.

"There’s too many areas in Mississippi like where we are today that are forgotten places and that’s just a fact," said Presley, a Democrat who was mayor of Nettleton, a town of 2,000. "Too many people in state government forget that areas like Schlater in our small, rural communities exist."

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