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Federal judge orders utility to turn over customer information amid reports of improper water use

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge has ordered Mississippi’s largest electric utility to turn over information on customers in and around the capital city who might be using water without paying for it.

In a Monday court filing, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate granted a motion by Ted Henifin — the federally appointed interim manager of Jackson's water and sewer systems — that compels Entergy Mississippi to turn over names, addresses and contact information for customers in over 30 zip codes in the area.

The order comes months after Henifin said Jackson is collecting only a little more than half of the money it bills for water use, far below the rate at which most American cities obtain such fees.

JXN Water, the corporation Henifin formed to manage water infrastructure projects, will cross reference the Entergy customer records with city records to see what homes might be using water without a utility account.

“This is essential to updating and correcting the information contained in the City of Jackson’s records of active and inactive water and sewer accounts,” Wingate wrote.

Henifin was appointed in November to help improve Jackson's water system after repeated breakdowns caused many in the city of about 150,000 residents to go days and weeks at a time without safe running water. The city's water troubles accelerated last August and September after a backup at the city's main treatment plant forced people to wait in lines for water to drink, bathe, cook and flush toilets.

In June, Henifin said there were over 7,000 properties in Jackson using water without paying for it. As a result, the city loses millions of dollars in annual revenue, hampering its ability to pay down what was then about $280 million in outstanding debt on the water system.

“We need to get our financial house in order for the water system,” Henifin told reporters in June. “In order to do that, we have to get the debt off the books.”

Wingate's order compels Entergy to provide JXN Water with customer information in no more than 30 days.

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Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.