EPA administrator talks Jackson water in exclusive sit-down with 3 On Your Side

Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 9:40 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Little has changed in the 10 months since EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited Jackson to assess its water system, but the message he’s received from residents is clear: “just fix the problem.”

In an exclusive sit-down interview with 3 On Your Side, Regan discussed Jackson’s ongoing water issues and what he’s learned from meeting with residents in the capital city.

Regan made several stops on Wednesday, including at a home in the Bel Air community, where several neighbors shared their concerns with Jackson water.

“I met with a 92-year-old resident this morning who tells me she’s tired of the finger-pointing, just fix the problem,” he said. “And that’s what we want to do.”

Jackson was Regan’s first stop on his five-city Journey for Justice Tour last November. The trip gave him an opportunity to speak with residents and local leaders and to take a hard look at the city’s longstanding water issues.

This time, he comes a little more than a week after equipment failures at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant cut out water for tens of thousands of residents.

“During the Journey for Justice Tour, I think one of the things that was most striking to me was my visit to Wilkins Elementary School. The water pressure was low. School was out that day, and a few kids stayed behind to talk to me about the impact they’re facing at home and at school,” he said. “Fast forward a year, and today, we see some of the same challenges – low water pressure, people going without good quality drinking water, and being forced to use bottled water.”

“Jackson has been plagued with these issues for far too long, and this recent storm has just exacerbated the situation,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s probably a city in every state that is close to being a Jackson issue.”

The Curtis plant, which is located in Ridgeland, is Jackson’s main water treatment facility. It brings in water from the Barnett Reservoir, where it then treats it and pushes it out into the city’s distribution system.

Recent flooding from the Pearl River caused the chemistry of the reservoir water to change, which, in turn, impacted operations at the plant, city officials have said. Two backup pumps that were used to bring in water shut down as a result.

In response, Gov. Tate Reeves mobilized several state agencies to help get the plant back on track. On Monday, pressure had been restored for most of the roughly 150,000 Jackson residents and others served by the facility.

Even with that victory Reeves and others say much more needs to be done to address problems at Curtis, something that’s evidenced by a September 6 incident action plan put together by the state.

The 41-page document obtained by WLBT outlines a litany of major hazards that still existed at the facility, including electrical boxes that are covered by cardboard boxes rather than proper covering, fire extinguishers being used as door props, missing or broken handrails, and a lack of or non-existence of other safety equipment for workers.

Incident Action Plan reveals major hazards at O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant.
Incident Action Plan reveals major hazards at O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant.(WLBT)

“We see these types of conditions all across the country and [this] is one of the reasons that Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” Regan said.

Regan said EPA’s goal now is to ensure the city brings its water system into compliance with federal water quality laws, and that it positions itself to receive a portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars in funding expected to come to the state in the coming years through the BIL.

Meanwhile, the city is still under an EPA administrative order that was put in place last year to address problems at the Curtis plant.

“We’re going to ensure that the city is following the law [and] is staying within the standards we have before them. But we’re also going to be sure that the city is positioned to be in the receipt of these resources to help rehabilitate and get them out of the situation that they’re in,” he said. “This is why I say we’re going to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

See more of Administrator Regan’s interview next week and read about Jackson’s ongoing water crisis at wlbt.com.

Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.