Environmental watchdog groups lobbying state to help fund Jackson sewer repairs
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - An environmental watchdog group is hoping two recent sewer main failures along Eubanks Creek will spur the legislature to dedicate funds to help Jackson address its sewer and water needs.
Sunday, Pearl Riverkeeper reported raw sewage was again flowing into Eubanks Creek, this time after heavy rains infiltrated the system and caused a manhole cover to pop off.
The incident occurred near the site of a previous sewer main break along the creek in September.
“What’s happening is sewer lines, some are from the early 1900s and are very porous. A lot of them have cracks, and during a rainstorm, water infiltrates the lines, overwhelms the system, and causes manholes to blow out,” Riverkeeper Abby Braman said. “It’s not just that location. It’s happening at numerous locations throughout the city.”
Braman said Riverkeeper reported the overflow to the city through its 311 system.
It was unclear how long the overflow lasted or how many gallons of untreated wastewater leaked into the creek.
“Part of the issue is it hadn’t rained for quite some time with that intensity and we got a lot of water into the system and it came out at that point,” City Engineer Charles Williams said.
Williams said the manhole where the overflow occurred is being done away with as part of a repair project on the Eubanks Creek Interceptor.
Last year, the city brought on Utility Constructors Inc., to rehab the sewer line, which carries waste to the larger West Bank Interceptor.
The West Bank Interceptor runs along the west bank of the Pearl River and carries wastewater to the Savanna Street Wastewater Treatment Plant in south Jackson.
Williams says the work along Eubanks will include removing one manhole and repairing another. However, work has been delayed as a result of COVID-19 and staffing shortages.
“When we get it repaired, that shouldn’t happen again,” he said.
Riverkeeper, meanwhile, says Sunday’s overflow is another piece of anecdotal evidence that can be used by the group to lobby the legislature for help.
“We feel it’s important to get the word out and let the legislators know how bad it is on the ground every day,” Braman said. “We provide them with these anecdotes - photos of what is happening in their own backyard and what shouldn’t be.”
She says the state has approximately $1.8 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, which it could tap into to help the city fix its sewer mains.
“Mississippi is one of only a handful of states that hasn’t allocated funding yet, so we’re hoping that in the upcoming session, they’ll prioritize funding for the state and Jackson,” she said.
Last fall, Riverkeeper was one of several nonprofits that spoke to a Senate subcommittee put in place to recommend how APRA dollars should be spent.
“The legislature had six information sessions led by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, where they (listened to representatives) from nonprofits, the state, and local governments,” Braman said. “They are working hard to appropriate that money. We just hope they prioritize funding like our neighboring state has, which (set aside) $300 million for water and sewer.”
Braman was referring to the state of Louisiana, which allocated $300 million in ARPA funds to its “water sector program.”
A similar set-aside by the Mississippi State Legislature could go a long way in helping the capital city address its water and sewer woes
The city has an estimated $2 billion in infrastructure needs, including $960 million it needs to bring its sewer system into compliance with a federal consent decree.
Jackson entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency in 2013, in part, to address a large number of sanitary sewer overflows.
Those overflows occur when untreated sewage gets into the environment.
The city is fined for every occurrence that impacts federal waterways, like the Pearl River.
Jackson faces another $170 million in expenses associated with a second agreed order, designed, in large part, to address deficiencies at its water treatment plants.
For Braman, the state couldn’t spend the money any better. “We believe that clean, safe drinking water and clean, swimmable, fishable waters should be a right for citizens of Mississippi.”
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