Jackson's Water Crisis Has Gone on So Long That the EPA Is Setting Up Shop There

Members of Progressive Morningstar Baptist Church direct people to get bottled water following a Sunday morning service in Jackson, Mississippi, on September 4, 2022.
Members of Progressive Morningstar Baptist Church direct people to get bottled water following a Sunday morning service in Jackson, Mississippi, on September 4, 2022.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to stick around in Jackson, Mississippi to help the city fix its long-term drinking water struggles, CNN reported. This summer, residents had untreated murky water coming from their taps, if they had running water at all. And this was just one water crisis in a long line of challenges for the city.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan has visited Jackson several times this year during the recent water crisis to offer the agency’s support. The EPA is currently working with city and state officials on an agreement to codify ongoing federal involvement in overseeing and improving the Jackson’s water system. Two weeks ago, the EPA announced that the local water was safe to drink again, CNN reported.

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The agreement will have to be approved by Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and Jackson’s city council before it’s filed by the U.S. Justice Department to a federal court, Regan said this week, according to local news station WLBT. “We are moving with a sense of urgency because we know with this agreement in place—approved by and governed by a federal court – it will give a level of transparency that the community has been seeking,” Regan said.

Last month, the agency launched a civil rights investigation in Jackson, after a probe from the NAACP alleged that the predominantly Black city has faced a pattern of racial discrimination. Despite years of water access issues, Mississippi officials did not allocate any of the more than $75 million it received in funding from the infrastructure law to help upgrade Jackson’s old water infrastructure, Politico reported. The EPA’s investigation will seek to understand if state officials violated the Civil Rights Act by withholding the funding needed to repair the city’s water system.

Jackson officials have issued hundreds of boil-water orders in the last two years, Politico reported. But recent months have especially highlighted the city’s infrastructural failures. In late August, the Pearl River overflowed after intense rainfall, flooding and shutting down the local water treatment facility. Some residents were left without running water, while others were warned to avoid drinking their tap water. Officials set up water distribution sites throughout Jackson, and crews worked overtime to fix the failed local water treatment plant. Even after water pressure was restored, the water was still unsafe to drink, CNN reported. Jackson residents were also told to boil their tap water this past July, after the state’s Health Department found cloudy water that could cause health issues, according to the Associated Press. Water was also shut off in February 2021 after a winter storm swept the South, and several water boiling advisories followed.

Late last month, Jackson’s Mayor announced that the city is seeking over $100 million in federal funding to repair and upgrade its wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. “We know that the condition of Jackson’s water system didn’t happen overnight but is due to decades of disinvestment in the city’s infrastructure,” Mayor Lumumba said in a press release. “The solution must address the immediate issues, but also provide long-term investments that will help us reimagine Jackson’s water infrastructure.”

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