Repairing Jackson, Mississippi’s ailing water system will receive $600 million from the federal government, a project the mayor estimates might cost billions.
(AP) JACKSON, Miss. Repairing Jackson, Mississippi’s ailing water system will receive $600 million from the federal government, a project the mayor estimates might cost billions.
The Senate and House of Representatives both just approved a $1.7 trillion spending measure that includes funding for Jackson water. It will likely become law with President Joe Biden’s signature.
This action should be celebrated as a promise of equitable infrastructure services for all families everywhere, said NAACP President Derrick Johnson, who resides in Jackson, in a statement released on Friday. “As families begin to gather for the holiday season, this action providing emergency funding to address the fundamental need of safe drinking water for every household in Jackson should be celebrated,” he said.
More than 75% of Jackson’s population is African-American, and over a quarter of them are living below the poverty line.
The city has had water problems for years, but in late August, the system nearly failed due to flooding from the Pearl River and the major water treatment facility. In order to drink, cook, shower, and flush toilets, residents of Jackson had to wait in long queues for water after the city’s water supply was cut off for several days.
After health officials discovered hazy water that could cause illness in late July, they encouraged residents to boil their water before using it. Until about the middle of September, that warning remained in effect.
The NAACP filed a federal case on September 27 claiming that state officials in Mississippi “all but ensured” a drinking water catastrophe by denying Jackson desperately needed cash to fix its infrastructure.
On October 20th, the EPA declared that it was looking into whether or not state agencies in Mississippi had discriminated against the state’s majority-Black capital city by withholding funding for infrastructure upgrades to the water supply. Michael Regan, the administrator of the EPA, has visited Jackson on many occasions for water-related talks.
Officials from the state confirmed in early November that Jackson will get $35.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to restore the city’s water infrastructure. More than $71 million in rescue plan cash was made available after the city made its mandatory dollar-for-dollar allocation.
A request to appoint a third-party manager for the Jackson system was filed by the U.S. Justice Department in late November, marking an unusual intervention on the part of the federal government. According to the agency, it was just a stopgap measure until the federal government, the city, and the Mississippi State Department of Health could come to terms on a consent decree that would be enforced by the court. The city must be in full compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act and other regulations, and its water system must be designed for the long haul.
The intervention was sanctioned by a federal judge, and Ted Henifin, a seasoned water system manager from Virginia, was assigned to lead the organisation. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba supports him.
Henefin is in charge of a number of projects, including a winterization project to make the water system more secure and a plan to increase staffing at Jackson’s two treatment plants, which have been short on experienced workers.
The head of the EPA sent a statement thanking Congress for their financial support of the Jackson cleanup on Friday.
Like everyone else in the United States, “the people of Jackson” should have access to safe, clean water, as stated by Regan.
Johnson claimed that the efforts of local Jacksonians, as well as the guidance of Biden administration officials and Democratic House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (whose district includes most of Jackson), were crucial to the approval of the federal funds.
Johnson remarked that the funds were a “major step in the right direction,” but that they were “just a down payment.” Protecting Black and Brown communities from environmental racism is a top priority for the NAACP and our allies, and we won’t stop fighting until we win in Jackson and beyond.