A watchdog independent from the Environmental Protection Agency stated Tuesday that it was being called in to investigate the problematic water system in Mississippi’s capital city.
After problems at Jackson’s main water-treatment plant caused customers to lose their service for several days in August and September, emergency repairs are being made. The water is now flowing normally, but 150,000 residents are still under a boil-water advisory. This is because of cloudiness found in the water by the state health department.
The Office of Inspector General, which is separate from the EPA has the mission of detecting fraud and waste. The office issued a memo Tuesday stating that it would examine the response of the EPA’s regional offices, as well as state and city officials to the crisis.
In a news release, Sean O’Donnell, inspector general, stated that “Given Jackson’s water crisis, it is crucial that the EPA OIG Act with a sense of urgency understand what has occurred in that community.”
Jackson, like many other cities, has water system problems that it cannot afford to fix. The city’s tax base has declined over the past decade as a result of a decline in its population. This is due to mainly white suburban migration that started after 1970’s integration of public schools. More than 80% of the city’s residents are Black and 25% live in poverty.
The inspector general will conduct interviews and gather data. He or she will also examine compliance with regulations, policies, and procedures to monitor Jackson’s water system. Also, he/she will review how federal grants are administered under the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and other federal laws.
Monday’s news conference saw Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba being asked about an EPA investigation.
Lumumba stated, “I’ve had city workers that have called me and said that someone asked some questions.” “I shared my knowledge with them and asked for their cooperation.”
The EPA’s inspector General called for the agency to improve its oversight of state drinking water systems nationwide and to respond faster to public health emergencies like the lead in-the-water crisis in Flint. The inspector general wrote a 74-page report highlighting “oversight deficiencies” at all levels of government, including the state and local, in response to Flint’s contaminated drinking waters.
Since late August, Jackson has seen the National Guard and volunteer organizations distribute millions of water bottles. This was after torrential rains in central Mississippi affected the quality of the water entering Jackson’s treatment plant. This slowed down the treatment process, and caused water tank depletion and precipitous pressure drop.
Officials stated that water pumps had failed before the rain and that a treatment plant was using a backup pump. In 2021, a cold snap froze pipes and rendered running water inaccessible to tens of thousands. Similar problems occurred again in the early part of this year on a smaller scale. Broken pipes and water lines are common.
In January, the EPA sent a notice to Jackson that Jackson’s system was in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The agency stated that all five pumps were out of commission after an April 2021 fire at the main water treatment facility. Six months later, inspections revealed that the pumps were still not working.
A spokesperson for the agency said Tuesday that the EPA would continue to provide technical support to Jackson’s water treatment plants. It will also coordinate with all levels of government to ensure Jackson residents have safe, clean water.
Jackson was visited by Michael Regan, EPA Administrator, last week to discuss the water crisis with residents and elected officials. Regan stated that the city should receive its fair share of federal funds to fix the system.
Bennie Thompson, Democratic U.S. Rep., who represents Jackson most, stated that he hopes that the inspector general “will work diligently [to evaluate the issues which caused the water crisis], and I support the EPA OIG with their efforts.”