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DOJ files case against Jackson for water safety violations

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EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited Jackson several times in the past year to evaluate water system needs and better understand the challenges the city is facing. Nov. 2021
Kobee Vance, MPB News

Federal courts are being asked to approve an agreement between the City of Jackson, State of Mississippi and the Environmental Protection Agency for the improvements of the city’s water infrastructure.

Kobee Vance

DOJ files case against Jackson for water safety violations


The Department of Justice is suing the City of Jackson for violations of the Clean Drinking Water Act and is seeking to revoke the city’s control over its water systems. Jackson is already under two federal court orders for violating EPA water standards. 

The department filed a proposal to appoint a third-party manager for the Jackson water system. That is meant to be 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 department said in a news release. The goal is to achieve long-term sustainability of the system and the city's compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act and other laws. The proposal has been signed by both the city and state health department.

Officials say a third party could operate the city’s water system under federal guidance until another federal order can cement a long-term solution. Senator John Horhn, representing parts of Hinds and Madison Counties, says this is a step in the right direction.
“I think the average citizen has about had it with the city’s water crisis issues that manifest themselves in different ways depending on the week or the month. The average citizen, the average ratepayer doesn’t care who manages the system so long as it’s managed well.”
Jackson’s Mayor has repeatedly stated that he is against the privatization of the city’s water infrastructure, but if this order is passed then the city must relinquish nearly all oversight of its water supply. This includes systems for maintenance, compliance and billing. It is unclear at this time what that could mean for the many Jackson residents with outstanding water bills worth thousands of dollars.
City officials and the State Department of Health declined to comment on the lawsuit. In a statement, Governor Tate Reeves says this is excellent news for Jackson, describing the water system as a ‘crisis of incompetence.’
The city and state continue to be in discussions on long-term solutions for water system improvements.

Edward "Ted" Henifin was appointed Tuesday as interim third-party manager of the Jackson water system and Water Sewer Business Administration, the city's water billing department. An online profile of Henifin says he is a registered professional engineer who served 15 years as general manager of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia. Before that, he served as director of public works for the city of Hampton, Virginia.

  The proposal lists 13 projects that Henifin will in charge of implementing. The projects are meant to improve the water system's near-term stability, according to a news release. Among the most pressing priorities is a winterization project to make the system less vulnerable. A cold snap in 2021 left tens of thousands of people in Jackson without running water after pipes froze.

  EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who has been to Jackson four times in the past year, said the Justice Department's action "marks a critical moment on the path to securing clean, safe water for Jackson residents,? adding that he is grateful to Garland for acting quickly on the city's water crisis.

Parts of this story were contributed by Emily Wagster-Pettus and Michael Goldberg with the Associated Press.