EPA to propose long-term presence in Jackson due to water crisis

EPA Administrator Michael Regan is visiting Jackson Tuesday following ongoing negotiations with city and state officials aimed at creating a legal agreement for ongoing federal involvement in the operation of the predominantly African-American city’s water system, the source said.

Regan’s trip will include a public forum with city officials on Tuesday afternoon.

It is the Administrator’s fourth trip to Jackson. Regan’s first trip came during the EPA’s “Journey to Justice Tour,” which began in November 2021, to shed light on environmental injustice, particularly in black and brown communities.

Months after that first visit, Jackson experienced a major outage of its water system following severe flooding. The outage highlighted longstanding problems with Jackson’s water from crumbling and neglected infrastructure, including a ailing waterworks and aging pipes that city and state leaders have long known about and are not properly maintained.

The crisis has affected the approximately 150,000 residents of Jackson. The latest setback came after the city’s main water treatment plant began to fail during the August floods, leaving people without drinking water and bottlenecks for flushing toilets and fighting fires. Even after the water pressure was restored, the liquid from the taps was still undrinkable.

The EPA launched an investigation in mid-September, with the city weeks a recommendation requiring tap water to be boiled before using it for drinking, cooking, making ice, washing dishes or brushing teeth.

The crisis was fueled in part by torrential rains that flooded the Pearl River and affected pumps at the main water treatment plant. The flooding exacerbated longstanding problems at Jackson’s OB Curtis water treatment plant.

The EPA has launched a federal civil rights investigation into the crisis, which is affecting a city that is 83% African American.

In response to complaints from the NAACP and Jackson residents, the EPA said it will investigate whether the Mississippi Department of Health and Human Services and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality “discriminated against the black majority population of the City of Jackson based on race in funding programs and activities related to… water infrastructure and treatment.”

Mississippi last month extended the city’s state of emergency through Nov. 22, authorizing the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Emergency Management Agency to oversee repairs at the water treatment plant.

The water issues have sparked squabbles between city officials and the administration of Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican.

Local residents and activists blame the water problems on years of systematic neglect, and some city leaders have blamed the state directly for failing to meet their calls to modernize the decrepit system.

Jackson’s plight is similar to that of Flint, Michigan, another predominantly black community that has been struggling with its water since 2014. With about 54% African American population, Flint is struggling with aging plumbing, lead contamination and an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

CNN’s Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.

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