The Big Stick

The writing has been on the proverbial wall for more than a year now regarding the fate and future of the Town of Winnsboro’s aging water system and how it can not only meet the needs of a county that has legitimate aspirations for economic development, but how it can continue to meet the needs of its existing customer base. That writing has finally been deciphered to read: County Water Authority.

This should not be misconstrued as a plan for the Town of Winnsboro to surrender its water system to the County government, which reportedly made such overtures to the Town earlier this year. On the contrary, a water authority (which can take on many different forms) brings all purveyors of water in Fairfield County into an arrangement where burdens are shared and everyone, including the Town of Winnsboro, maintains their current benefits.

Such an arrangement might best be described as a club, with each member sharing in the cost of upkeep for the clubhouse. In this case, the clubhouse is the Winnsboro water system, its treatment plant and all the pipes and hoses and knobs and spigots that come with it. The individual members, meanwhile, will maintain their autonomy and will continue to be able distribute water to their existing customers.

The biggest challenge facing the Town of Winnsboro can be summed up in a single word: Cost. The cost of maintaining the existing water system, the cost of extending that system and the cost of accessing additional sources of supply. As individual entities, none of the water distributors in Fairfield County can meet these challenges. Together, however, under the umbrella of a unified water authority, they can. Not only are such costs shared among the membership, a water authority, because of its pooled resources, has increased borrowing power, making loans, whether from a private institution or the state or federal government, easier and cheaper to get.

It is a bold idea, but not so bold and outlandish as, say, landing on the moon. It can – and, moreover, should – be done. But getting a large group of people on the same page, particularly such a wide diversity of people as those in Fairfield County’s water game, is never an easy task. Sometimes cattle can be herded with a barking dog and sometimes it takes an electric prod. Last week, when the Mayor of Winnsboro essentially laid down the law about the Town’s commitment to forming a water authority, we heard the barking dog. And we caught a glimpse of the prod: Get on board or get your water elsewhere.

Tough talk, indeed. But these are tough times for the Winnsboro water business, and plenty of valuable time has been expended on talk already. Now it’s time for some tough action.