Science

Agreement Reached to Appoint Third-Party Manager for Water System in Jackson, Mississippi

The Justice Department made a rare intervention Tuesday to try to improve the beleaguered water system in Mississippi’s capital city, which almost collapsed in late summer And continues to fight.

The department filed a motion to appoint a third-party manager for the Jackson Water System. The department said in a news release that it is an interim step while the federal government, the city of Jackson and the Mississippi State Department of Health try to negotiate a court-enforced consent decree. The goal is to achieve long-term sustainability of the system and city compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act and other laws.

The city and state health departments have signed off on the proposal, which requires approval from a federal judge.

The Justice Department on Tuesday filed a complaint against Jackson on behalf of the US Environmental Protection Agency, alleging that the city failed to provide drinking water that complies with the Safe Drinking Water Act. According to the agreement, that lawsuit will be put on hold for six months while the parties try to make improvements to the water system.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in the news release that the Justice Department is “taking action in federal court to address long-standing failures in the City of Jackson’s public drinking water system.”

“The Department of Justice takes very seriously its responsibility to keep the American people safe and protect their civil rights,” Garland said. “Together with our allies at EPA, we will continue to seek justice for the residents of Jackson, Mississippi. And we will continue to prioritize cases in the communities most burdened by environmental harm.”

Jackson has had water problems for decades. In late August, heavy rainfall at the city’s main water treatment plant caused water to flow through most of the city for several days. When this happened, Jackson had already been under a boil-water advisory for a month because health inspectors had found cloudy water that could make people sick.

Hundreds of members of the National Guard were called in to help with water distribution, schools and businesses were closed, and residents were told to take a shower with their mouths shut Because the water was not safe.

The boil-water advisory was lifted in mid-September, but many people remain skeptical of the water quality.

EPA announced in september that it launched a review of the Jackson water crisis, which was done by FEMA Administrator Dean Creswell described described by CBS News at the time as an “absolutely tragic situation” and one that inspired President Biden to issue a disaster declaration,

Jackson Water Crisis
FILE – Members of Progressive Morningstar Baptist Church instruct people to bring bottled water after Sunday morning service on Sept. 4, 2022 in Jackson, Mississippi. With bottled water the church serves its congregation and the community as Jackson residents continue to endure the water shocks.

SETH HERALD/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


In late October, the EPA announced also checking Whether Mississippi state agencies discriminated against Jackson by denying funding for water system improvements in the city of 150,000, where more than 80% of residents are black and nearly a quarter of the population live in poverty.

In a federal complaint on September 27, the NAACP said Mississippi officials assured a drinking water disaster by depriving Jackson of badly needed funds to upgrade its infrastructure.

Congress hinted last month Checking the status.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, said Tuesday that the Jackson water problem was caused by a “crisis of inefficiency” in the Democratic-led city.

“It’s great news for anyone who cares about the people of Jackson that the mayor will no longer be overseeing the city’s water system,” Reeves tweeted.

Like many American cities, Jackson struggles with outdated infrastructure with water lines that crack or collapse. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a Democrat in the Republican-led state, said the city’s water problems stem from decades of deferred maintenance.

Jackson often gets boil-water notices due to pressure loss or other problems contaminating the water. Some mandates are only for a few days, while others last weeks. Some only affect specific neighborhoods, usually due to broken pipes in the area. Others affect all customers on the water system.

Edward “Ted” Hennifin was hired Tuesday as the interim third-party manager of the Jackson Water System and Water Sewer Business Administration, the city’s water billing department. An online profile of Hennifin says he is a registered professional engineer who served for 15 years as general manager of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia. Prior to that, he served as the Director of Public Works for the City of Hampton, Virginia.

The proposal lists 13 projects that Henifin will be responsible for implementing. The projects aim to improve the near-term sustainability of the water system, according to a news release. One of the most urgent priorities is the winterization project to make the system less vulnerable. Thousands of people in Jackson were without water after pipes froze due to the freezing cold of 2021.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who has visited Jackson four times in the past year, said the Justice Department’s action is “an important moment on the path to securing clean, safe water for Jackson residents,” adding that he Grateful to Garland for doing the work. Soon on the city’s water crisis

Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, said the Justice Department’s announcement Tuesday is “an important and necessary step to ensure that Jackson and surrounding communities have access to safe drinking water – all communities a vital requirement for it to flourish.”

“Unfortunately,” Wade said, “the deplorable and unsafe state of Jackson’s water system did not happen overnight, but stemmed from decades of neglect and the deliberate divestment of the majority-black municipality’s resources.”

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