GREENWOOD – A little more than a week ago, the state’s top utility and water services agency, promised it would find solutions to help Delta families with no access to running water. Now, it seems the Public Service Commission is moving on that promise. During a meeting Monday at the Leflore County Courthouse, officials from the federal, state and local government devised a two-fold plan to address the residents’ water issues.

The first phase allows for Central Mississippi Inc., the local community action agency here, to apply for a $20,000 grant to repair broken water wells, said Brandon Presley, Mississippi Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District, in a phone call with Mississippi Today. If the grant is approved, construction can start as early as January.

The second phase involves meeting in February to hammer out a permanent solution that provides residents with access to their own water system.

Presley coordinated Monday’s meeting with Anjuan Brown, Leflore County Supervisor of District 3, who initially reached out to the community to help.

The attendees for the meeting included representatives from Congressman Bennie Thompson’s office, the Mississippi Rural Water Association, United States Department of Agriculture, North Delta Planning and Development District, Central Mississippi Inc., and Mississippi State Department of Health Bureau of Water Supply.

“We think we have very high success of doing that and coming back to see what grant funds are available for a long term solution,” Presley said.

Since July, the six families living on the outskirts of Schlater, a town located between Ruleville and Greenwood, have been without access to running water since July when their well pumps broke, Mississippi Today reported in November. Since, people from other states have donated cases of drinking water to the residents. Brown reached out to the Greenwood Motorcycle Club and others for a water tank, he said Monday. An earlier Mississippi Today story said that Leflore County had donated the tank.

After Mississippi Today’s initial report, Presley called to inquire about how his office could be of help. He conducted follow-up discussions with federal and local water agencies to see what can be done to assist the families.

In a call on Monday, Presley said his vision is to go beyond Leflore County. He plans to create a task force specifically for the northern district to document water access and ask citizens to “tell us if they lack water,” he said.

Presley noted there has been no effort or “accounting of that.” He went on to say that in addition to learning of the Schlater families’ lack of running water, his office also recently became aware of water access issues in Tishomingo County.

“So much of our state does not have an incumbent water utility because there’s a lot of wells still out there. I want to take a proactive approach,” said Presley. “We do not need to wait until people’s wells go out. It’s a challenge to our rural people in particular.”

Brown, Leflore County supervisor, noted the creation of a task force is necessary and a good idea, but knowing families are without water is “bittersweet.”

“It’s kind of a bittersweet thing – meaning I hate it happened to families, but what it did was it opened a lot of eyes and it’s giving the state an opportunity to look at where we are when we’re we talking about water,” Brown said.

“We will be talking to the Mississippi Association of Supervisors regarding this issue, so we can talk to our legislators. There’s a lot of things that just struck open.”

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Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and was a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She was also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.