U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan returned to Jackson, Miss., Sept. 26 to reaffirm his commitment to ensuring the city gets relief for its ongoing drinking water issues. On the same day, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim sent a letter to Jackson officials warning them that the U.S. Dept. of Justice is ready to take action if the city does not reach an agreement with the EPA.
Jackson’s long-standing drinking water issues culminated in a 17-day crisis after the city’s 50 million-gallon-per-day-capacity O.B. Curtis Water Plant failed Aug. 29. About 180,000 people were left with unreliably low water pressure or no water at all. A boil water notice was lifted Sept. 15 after emergency repairs were made at the plant. But the city has continued issuing some localized boil notices related to leaks and main breaks since then. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba (D) has estimated fixing all of Jackson’s water distribution systems would cost between $1 billion and $2 billion.
“As evidenced by the roughly 300 boil water notices that have been issued over the past two years, the multiple line breaks during the same timeframe, and the recent drinking water crisis, it’s clear this community has suffered long enough,” Regan said.
Kim’s letter, which was obtained by local NBC and ABC News affiliates, highlights alleged violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act the Justice Dept. believes have occurred as a result of state and local officials failing to protect public health. They include inadequately staffing water treatment plants, a lack of an alternative water supply plan and a failure to meet deadlines under a prior EPA compliance order. Also, Kim wrote that they failed to install corrosion controls, and tests showed exceedances of both haloacetic acids (HAA5) and turbidity limits.
Federal officials want a comprehensive plan that could include temporary third-party management of Jackson’s water system, Kim wrote.
“I’m happy that we’re moving forward in a collaborative way,” Lumumba said.
Jackson is also facing a federal lawsuit filed Sept. 16 by four residents who accuse current and former officials of neglecting the city’s water supply for decades. The suit alleges residents were deprived of their right to bodily integrity under the 14th Amendment. It also accuses two firms that provided water services to Jackson, Siemens Industry Inc. and Trilogy Engineering Services LLC, of professional and simple negligence.
Outside experts have joined the efforts to make emergency repairs at the Curtis water treatment plant. The plant has both conventional and membrane treatment systems, and the team repaired equipment on both sides. Raw water pumps were removed by crane for repairs and then reinstalled. Membrane trains and conventional sedimentation basins were cleaned. Members of the multistate team also worked on Jackson’s smaller-capacity J.H. Fewell Water Plant.