Jackson mayor told employees to cooperate with EPA investigation

Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 12:58 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 12, 2022 at 2:39 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba says he’s told his employees to cooperate with an ongoing EPA investigation.

A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General has confirmed that personnel are in the city, collecting data and conducting interviews related to the latest water crisis.

EPA OIG is an independent organization within EPA that “performs audits and investigations of the EPA to detect and prevent fraud, waste and abuse,” according to the office’s website.

“I’ve had city employees that have called and said that someone asked them some questions. I just shared with them to cooperate,” Lumumba said during his Monday press briefing. “That’s all I know, I don’t know the scope. I don’t know the timeline of what they’re looking at.”

“What I can share with you is that anytime you have an event that has as far-ranging implications as this one has had, then you should expect more questions,” Lumumba added. “You should expect, you know, a deeper dive into that. And so we embrace that. And, as I said, I will instruct everyone to cooperate.”

NBC News announced the investigation had been launched on Friday. OIG had reached out to the mayor’s office “as a courtesy to let them know of our plans to initiate an inquiry,” an EPA spokesperson tells WLBT.

The investigation began a little less than two weeks after equipment failures at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, the city’s main water treatment facility, led to a loss in water service for tens of thousands of customers.

A similar inquiry into water issues in Flint, Michigan, led to nine indictments, NBC reported. EPA officials would not confirm with 3 On Your Side what type of information was being collected or whether the investigation into Jackson water was of a criminal nature.

That matter aside, Lumumba touted progress being made to restore water to customers. He thanked state, federal, and out-of-state officials for helping restore water to almost all connections.

“At this point, it is our expectation, it is our belief, that all Jackson residents do have water pressure, with the exception of [those who have] issues at the personal home or facility that may need to be addressed,” he said. “And so, if you are experiencing low water pressure, please let us know so that we can address it.”

The mayor said even with improvements, there have been some setbacks. A raw water pump that was installed on Saturday, for instance, has been pulled back from the pump platform after it was determined additional repairs were needed, according to a city news release.

“If you recall, there were two raw water pumps that we said needed to be repaired. It is now estimated that they will be coming on-site around the same time, so we’re still listening to the repair company and listening out for word on when those repairs will be made,” the mayor said. “We can follow up on a timeline when we believe that installation will take place.”

The latest Mississippi Emergency Management Agency figures show pressure at the plant was holding at 87.5 PSI, or pounds per square inch. City officials previously said that 87 PSI is the optimal pressure in the system. Production at the plant also has increased.

Curtis is authorized to treat 50 million gallons of water a day - 25 million on its conventional side and 25 million on its membrane filtration side. As of Sunday, the city was pushing out 11.8 million gallons through the conventional side and 12 million gallons through the membrane side, documents from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency state.

The J.H. Fewell Plant, the city’s century-old backup plant located in the waterworks curve, was producing 19.41 million gallons, just shy of its 20 million capacity.

Daily water production at Curtis Plant since start of water crisisConventional sideMembrane side
September 1111.8M (gallons per day)12M (gallons per day)
September 1011.8M14.9M
September 915.4M9.91M
September 810M14.1M
September 711.6M13.96M
September 610.63M11.7M
September 515.4M5.7M
September 418.7M8.42M
September 315.8M6.3M
September 212M7.6M
September 112M8M
August 314M12M
August 3014M16M
Source: Mississippi Emergency Management Agency

Emergency agreements are also in place to provide temporary staffing at the plant. “Teams are on site from South Carolina, Michigan, [and] Maryland. Additional teams from Ohio are expected to arrive today,” Lumumba said. “These teams include operators, mechanics, instrument technicians, and maintenance, very critical assistance to our water treatment process.”

Staffing has been a major concern at the Curtis plant. A WLBT investigation revealed that the facility had just two Class A-certified operators on staff, despite federal and state statutes requiring one of those operators to be on duty at all times. Since our report, two more operators on staff have received their Class A license, as the city previously stated.

“We’re grateful for their support. I want to say that we’re grateful to all the cities and the states that have joined in this effort,” he said. “It has not only helped to get our water treatment facility on stable footing in this triage period of time, but it also has allowed the city to save a large sum of money going through this process.”

Meanwhile, Lumumba was unsure when the city’s ongoing boil water notice would be lifted. Jackson has been under a state-imposed notice since July 29, when samples showed high levels of turbidity in the water.

“Investigatory sampling will continue today to monitor water quality. At this time, the distribution system is not ready for sampling to clear the boil water notice,” he said. “I will share that the word I have recently gotten is that there is some optimism around those investigatory samples, I should say, and... that we’re looking at a matter of days, not weeks before we can expect the boil water notice to be lifted.”

A community meeting to discuss water will be held at College Hill Baptist Church at 6 p.m., on Tuesday, September 13. The church is located at 1600 Florence Ave., in Jackson, and city, state, and federal emergency officials will be on hand to provide updates and answer questions.

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