The Stream, February 14, 2024: Years of False Promises and Bad Deals Left Mississippi Towns Dry and in Debt

Drinking water pipes. Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue


  • Dozens of people have died in the Philippines following torrential rains, floods, and landslides, as the search for survivors continues. 
  • Small towns in Mississippi were left with faulty water infrastructure and bloated bills after large companies promised modern meters and increased savings, an investigation finds. 
  • Despite citizens voting to shut down oil extraction in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, the national government is contemplating delaying the closure.
  • Israel Defense Forces have confirmed they are dumping seawater in Gaza’s tunnels, increasing the potential for drinking water contamination.

A bill that would have protected groundwater in Maine from large-scale pumping for bottled water failed in the state Legislature.

“Mainers don’t want Poland Spring to lock our communities into bad deals, and certainly not bad deals that last for decades.” — Margaret M. O’Neil, a Democrat, who sponsored the bill.

Last week, the Maine State Senate voted 21 to 12 against a bill that would have placed a “10-year limit on large-scale water-extraction contracts,” the New York Times reports. The decision is a major victory for BlueTriton — a bottled water company that owns Poland Springs, Arrowhead, and Deer Park —  which draws from groundwater reserves in the state and is currently lobbying for a 45-year contract to pump in the northern town of Lincoln. 

BlueTriton lobbied hard against the bill, going so far as to circulate an amendment last year that would have killed the proposed changes.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

Jackson, Mississippi’s water crises of late 2021 and mid-2022 left taps dry for weeks, yet they were just a few examples of a widespread, years-long struggle for water security throughout the state.

Several large corporations — Siemens, McNeil Rhoads, and Mueller — had been promising leaders reliable infrastructure and cost-saving water meters for years. They had become familiar names in the region, enticing mayors with new technologies with the potential to boost revenue by hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Cities entered into agreements that paid the companies millions of dollars.

But those corporations didn’t hold up their side of the bargain, according to a New York Times investigation. Late, faulty, and improperly installed water meters were the norm in Jackson and small towns across Mississippi. Debts accrued for years as residents sometimes received monthly water bills exceeding $1,000. Despite these problems, “From 2009 to 2017, at least 10 Mississippi cities signed contracts with the companies to install smart meters or other new technology,” according to the Times. All but one reported problems with the new water systems. 

Towns have tried to get out of the contracts and recoup losses, though most cases are still pending in court. In 2019, the city of Jackson sued Siemens and later settled for $90 million, the amount they paid them in the first place. Those hardest hit by the failures, the investigation found, were small, predominantly Black towns.

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers


The death toll as of Tuesday morning in the Philippines, where torrential rains spurred flooding and landslides in a gold mining town called Maco, in Davao de Oro province, Reuters reports. Responders are switching focus from search and rescue to search and retrieval, officials say, while the United States has provided $1.25 million in humanitarian aid to the country’s southern islands.



Number of barrels of oil produced per day in the ITT oil block, located inside Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park in the eastern Amazon rainforest, Mongabay reports. The national government is contemplating ways to keep the operation open, despite a referendum vote last year in which more than 5 million people (59 percent) voted to close it. Near the shores of the Napo River, a tributary to the Amazon, the oil block has had multiple spills since it opened in 2016. With 12 oil platforms and 230 wells, it is “expected to bring in around $14 billion over the next 20 years.”

On the Radar

Israel has confirmed its military forces are injecting “high-flow” seawater into tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip that are used by Hamas to position supplies and personnel. The move worries experts who say it is increasingly likely that much of Gaza’s clean water will be contaminated as a result of the flooding, Scientific American reports

Israel maintains that locations for the injections were chosen deliberately, so that “groundwater in the area would not be compromised.” But water researchers are expressing their concerns that this is not the case. In particular, there are fears that the injections will flood a key coastal aquifer, “which lies between Gaza, Egypt and Israel and supplies nearly 80 percent of Gaza’s water.” It is also likely, they say, that the floods will create sinkholes that destabilize buildings and contribute to worsening soil health.

More Water News

Hydroponic Home: In a refugee camp in northern Jordan, a farmer is using hydroponics to grow onions and red lettuce in the water-scarce environment, helping to support stateless people, many from Palestine, the Guardian reports

‘Miracle’ Fish Lost: The climbing galaxias fish, which breathes through its skin and climbs waterfalls, is feared to have been wiped out in Sydney due to polluted runoff and construction in its freshwater habitat, the Guardian reports.

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