EPA awards $115 million to Jackson, Mississippi, to fix water crisis
The city has issued multiple boil water notices over the past year.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday announced that it had awarded $115 million to the city of Jackson, Mississippi, to address critical water infrastructure issues.
Thousands in the city were forced to rely on bottled water during the summer and fall of 2022 due to a failure of the drinking water system. NBC reported in September 2022 that an organization called Operation Good had estimated that it had distributed more than 700 cases of water bottles in a single day.
The crisis in Jackson’s water supply had been building for decades as the city’s infrastructure was left to deteriorate.
Jackson’s population is 82.8% Black, and experts have said that the neglect of the infrastructure, particularly the water system, can largely be attributed to systemic racism. Areas of the U.S. with historically Black populations have often received inadequate funding to maintain infrastructure and have often suffered neglect over extended time periods.The Biden administration requested $600 million in supplemental disaster funding to fix the water supply system, which Congress approved in the 2023 budget.
“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,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
The agency said the funds would be used to stabilize the city’s water infrastructure and to rebuild areas requiring repair, including fixing leaks, ensuring adequate water pumping capacity, and creating a plan to stabilize and ensure sustainability of the water system.
The Mississippi State Department of Health issued a boil water advisory notice in July 2022, saying it had detected high levels of turbidity, or cloudiness, in the water supply, which could indicate the presence of disease-causing organisms.
Heavy rains in August 2022 caused flooding on the Pearl River, which runs through Jackson. The change in the chemical makeup of the water supply affected the water treatment process, which left the city’s 150,000 residents without safe drinking water.
The situation was so severe that Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency on Aug. 30, 2022.
Regan visited Jackson multiple times throughout the year to discuss bringing the city’s water system into compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The law empowers the EPA to set and maintain standards for drinking water safety.
Since taking office, President Joe Biden has said that environmental justice, addressing the legacy of racism and its effect on environmental issues affecting minority communities, would be a key focus of his administration. The administration is implementing the “Justice40 Initiative,” which calls for 40% of benefits from certain federal investments to flow to historically disadvantaged communities.
In September, the EPA created an Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, which will integrate civil rights, equity, and environmental justice principles into EPA policies going forward.
“The reason why the EPA Administrator has been [to Jackson] multiple times is because he has made that a priority, in particular dealing with environmental justice issues that we see across the country,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre explained at a Sept. 7, 2022, press briefing.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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