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MLGW president promises specific improvements to electric, water system after crises impacted customers for days

Doug McGowen expects in a month or two to have specific details on additional improvements for the water and electric system.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Wednesday, the Memphis Light, Gas & Water president responded to MLGW commissioners, customers and critics on how to improve power and water reliability after back-to-back crises in recent weeks.

Doug McGowen promised specific improvements are coming after TVA ordered blackouts that temporarily knocked out lights and heat and broken mains forced a days-long boil water advisory last month.

MLGW said action plans are underway to upgrade areas in the water and electric system that didn't meet the moment last month, when subfreezing temperatures again wreaked havoc and caused headaches.

For those in the MLGW watchdog group 21st Century Memphis Or Bust, they left the meeting in more of a wait-and-see mode.

"All Memphians you know deserve to have accountability on that end of reliable water, reliable power," Ray Bauer of that group told ABC24. "During this crisis, it felt like the MLGW communications staff was missing in action."

Bauer's frustration was shared by tens of thousands of other MLGW customers who dealt with temporary power outages and a boil water advisory around the Christmas holiday.

In the first MLGW board meeting since, McGowen promised accountability and action, including improvements following TVA's first ordered rolling blackouts in the utility's nearly 90-year history.

"We had to do it with very little warning," McGowen said, who added some customers were in the dark longer because 30% of circuit breakers didn't turn back on remotely.

"We'll take a look at those to make sure they are more reliable in their restoration," McGowen said.

As for the boil advisory, McGowen acknowledged customer frustrations but also outlined more than $50 million in accelerated upgrades since the last major boil advisory in early 2021.

"It's safe to say without the investments we made to our wells and pumping stations, this would have been a much worse and much deeper crisis," McGowen said.

Bauer promised her group will continue to keep tabs and pressure on MLGW's promised progress ahead of the next major storm.

"Until the power stops going out every time it rains, until the water is completely stable and lead pipes and everything is taken care of, we'll be here to shine the spotlight and keep asking questions," Bauer said.

McGowen expects in a month or two to have specific details on additional improvements for the water and electric system. MLGW will follow up with TVA on their planned improvements in a few weeks.

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