JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Governor Tate Reeves (R-Miss.) responded to a letter sent by Reps. Bennie Thompson, of Mississippi, and Carolyn Maloney, of New York, about their concerns over the Jackson water crisis.
They requested information on how Mississippi plans to spend $10 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act and from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and $429 million “specifically allotted to enhance the state’s water infrastructure.”
The letter indicates “the start of a joint investigation” by the House Homeland Security and the Oversight and Reform committees into a crisis that deprived Jackson’s 150,000 residents of running water for several days in late August and early September.
Reeves released the following response:
[M]y administration is deeply committed to ensuring that all federal funds received by Mississippi for drinking water systems upgrades have been in the past and will continue to be in the future made available and distributed among Mississippi’s more than 1,100 water systems on an objective and race-neutral basis.
The letter also documents systematic failures of City management which ultimately led to the need for the state of Mississippi to step in and stabilize Jackson’s water system.
In late August, with a nearly month-long boil water alert in place, and the two primary raw water pumps at O.B. Curtis previously removed for repairs and out of commission, the total collapse of the City’s water system was imminent.
Additionally, it notes that the United States Department of Justice, on behalf of the EPA, issued a letter to Jackson expressing its intention to file an action against the City under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
According to the letter, ‘The DOJ asserted that the City failed to protect public health by the following: (1) Failure to adequately staff water treatment plants with Class A operators, (2) Failure to implement an Alternative Water Supply Plan pursuant to the Administrative Order, (3) Failure to comply with the timeline for general filter rehabilitation pursuant to the Administrative Compliance Consent Order, (4) Failure to install corrosion control pursuant to the Lead and Copper Rule, (5) Exceedance of the haloacetric acids five maximum contaminant level, and (6) Exceedance of single turbidity limits. The letter requested the City immediately enter into negotiation with the DOJ regarding the recent drinking water crisis.’
The letter also noted how the EPA has chastised the City of Jackson for its failure to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and inability to effectively operate the plant and provide clean drinking water to its residents.
The letter further highlights how Rep. Thompson himself has expressed similar concerns regarding Jackson’s lack of leadership and transparent planning on this issue. Rep. Thompson stated, ‘I know there’s a water problem with the City of Jackson, but nobody has shared the facts on the problem with me… When we don’t see the plan for that investment, there is a reluctance to invest on it… You can’t just say ‘we need money.’
Furthermore, the data reveals that Jackson actually received far more funds than it was proportionately entitled to.
The letter stated that, ‘the City of Jackson has received considerable funding over the years. Specifically, in FY 2021, Jackson was awarded assistance from the DWSRF in the amount of $27,953,300, that is 68.4% of total funds disbursed, and over 93% of the total amount to large communities (population greater than 10,000) throughout the entire state of Mississippi.’
The letter further states that, ‘in addition to its request in FY 2021, the City previously requested a DWSRF loan on two prior occasions since the inception of the program in 1996. In FY 2016, the City requested and received a loan in the principal amount of $10,861,920, representing 33% of the total funds available. In FY 2019, the City requested and received a loan in the principal amount of $12,903,093, representing 35% of the total funds available. The City has never had an application for a DWSRF loan denied.’Gov. Tate Reeves, R-Miss.
Thompson’s district includes most of Jackson, and he chairs the Homeland Security Committee. Maloney chairs the Oversight and Reform Committee.
Jackson has had water problems for years, and the latest troubles began in late August after heavy rainfall exacerbated problems in the city’s main treatment plant, leaving many customers without running water. Jackson had already been under a boil-water notice since late July because the state health department found cloudy water that could make people ill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.