Jackson to get first round of $600 million in federal funds

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this week the City of Jackson, Miss., will receive $115 million to support critical water infrastructure investments that will help ensure safe and reliable drinking water for residents.

The funding comes from a $600 million Congressional appropriation for Jackson championed by President Joe Biden as part of the 2023 federal budget. With this award and other funding from the president’s Investing in America agenda, EPA says it is delivering on the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to ensuring that all people, including the people of Jackson have access to clean, safe drinking water.

This initial $115 million award to the Jackson Public Water System will be used to stabilize and rebuild the city’s water infrastructure. EPA says these activities include identifying and fixing leaks in the distribution system, developing a system-wide assessment of valves and hydrants, ensuring adequate pumping capacity to maintain water pressure and distribution, and developing a system stabilization and sustainability plan. 

EPA is using its emergency authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Section 1442(b) to award funding to the City of Jackson’s Public Water System. Section 1442(b) allows EPA to make grants to publicly owned water systems to assist in responding to and alleviating emergencies affecting public water systems that are determined to present substantial danger to the public health.

“This historic funding will impact the residents of Jackson in unprecedented ways. I want to thank the Biden-Harris Administration for standing with us and leading the efforts to ensure our community received the necessary funding that has been denied to us for so long,” said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “These funds will help provide relief to Jackson residents, who have suffered decades of water insecurity. This aid helps to restore dignity to our city.”

“I’ve had the privilege of meeting with Jackson residents in their homes, in their churches, and in their schools, and I’ve seen firsthand the water infrastructure challenges they’ve endured for far too long. President Biden and I pledged to do everything in our power to help deliver clean, safe drinking water for the Jackson community, and this action reaffirms our commitment,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “These funds will help stabilize and rebuild the city’s water system and make significant strides to provide reliable water service to people’s homes, schools, and businesses. As I’ve said since the onset of this crisis, we will continue to stand with the people of Jackson and work to resolve this longstanding issue together.

In addition to this appropriation, the City of Jackson and State of Mississippi are eligible for tens of millions of dollars in additional financial support to support water infrastructure upgrades. Many of these programs are part of Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, to advance environmental justice by ensuring that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments reach disadvantaged communities that are marginalized and overburdened by pollution and underinvestment.

Jackson Background

Flooding in Mississippi in early August 2022 caused the City of Jackson’s already vulnerable public water system to lack sufficient pressures in some areas, leaving around 150,000 residents without drinkable water. By Aug. 30, 2022, emergencies were declared by the Mayor, the Governor, the Mississippi State Department of Health, and the President. The city was under a state-imposed boil water notice for 40 days, ending on Sept. 16, 2022.

Multiple federal, state, and local partners responded, making progress in restoring water pressure and repairing equipment; however, the city needed more time to address staffing shortages, operations, and maintenance issues, and needed infrastructure repairs. In December 2022, a severe cold snap reduced ambient temperatures to well below freezing for 48 hours. Once again, the city lost pressure to thousands of customers and a precautionary city-wide boil water notice was issued. There continues to be an imminent danger that the system could fail again and return to boil water notice without improved management, operation, and maintenance of the system. 

The City of Jackson has had long-term challenges in meeting National Primary Drinking Water Regulations and has incurred several violations over the years. On Nov. 1, 2022, EPA made an Emergency Determination under Section 1442(b) of SDWA, authorizing the Agency to provide grant funding and technical assistance to the City of Jackson Public Water System and the State of Mississippi, consistent with this emergency authority. On Nov. 29, 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of the EPA against the City for failing to comply with SDWA. On the same day, the court approved the Interim Stipulated Order, which was signed by the city and the Mississippi State Department of Health. The Order appointed an Interim Third Party Manager to stabilize the City’s system and build confidence in the system’s ability to supply safe drinking water to customers. To assist the Public Water System in fulfilling commitments established in the order, EPA used its emergency authority under SDWA Section 1442(b) on Dec. 20, 2022, awarding over $2.1 million in grant funding to the City of Jackson’s Public Water System for immediate needs. This latest grant award builds on the great work that has begun to end the drinking water crisis and protect the public health of the citizens of Jackson, Mississippi.

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