Council urges mayor to ‘fully cooperate’ with state, federal officials working on water crisis

Jackson City Council discusses water issues at a previous meeting.
Jackson City Council discusses water issues at a previous meeting.(WLBT)
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 4:34 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - With virtually no debate and in only a matter of minutes, the Jackson City Council approved a resolution asking the mayor to work with state and federal officials in addressing the city’s ongoing water crisis.

Tuesday, the council voted 4-1 on an item “strongly urging Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba to fully cooperate with federal and state officials in a collaborative planning effort to bring Jackson’s water and sewer system to full and sustainable functionality.”

The decision comes more than two weeks after equipment failures at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant left customers with little to no water pressure, and after the state stepped in to help make repairs at the facility.

Meanwhile, the mayor and governor have only appeared together twice since the crisis began, and both have taken numerous pot shots at each other, holding “dueling press conferences” and both claiming credit for seeking help for businesses impacted by the crisis.

For his part, Reeves said he did not invite Lumumba to his August 29 press conference where he announced the state was stepping in. Lumumba showed up uninvited to a subsequent press conference hosted by the governor, where Reeves did allow him to speak.

The day after that press conference, the mayor’s and governor’s offices again got into a spat over whether Reeves was attending a joint media briefing announced by the city.

The two seemed to bury the hatchet while the Environmental Protection Agency was in town late last week and even vowed to work together at a briefing with EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

The back-and-forth resumed after the EPA leader left, including on Tuesday when the Lumumba administration hinted at who should get credit for the governor’s decision to seek federal help for small businesses impacted by the city’s water woes.

Reeves announced on Monday that he had reached out to the U.S. Small Business Administration seeking emergency assistance from the agency’s director.

“Jackson businesses have been hit hard by the ongoing water crisis,” he said on Twitter. “Recognizing this, I have requested assistance from the Small Business Administration through Economic Injury Disaster Loans to support those affected.”

Tuesday, the mayor’s office thanked Reeves for his efforts but clarified that the governor asked for help at the behest of the city. “We are well aware of the economic hardship the water crisis and lengthy boiled water notice has caused on our businesses - restaurants in particular, and we remain committed to pursuing all possible avenues to alleviate that hardship,” the city wrote.

Included with the city’s press release was a September 5 letter Lumumba sent to Gov. Reeves asking him to seek SBA help. “The state of Mississippi has been an extraordinary partner in our response efforts, for which the city of Jackson is grateful,” the mayor said in the letter. “I cannot thank you enough for your support and willingness to go above and beyond in helping [the] businesses of Jackson.”

Lumumba had a less conciliatory tone in an interview with MSNBC commentator and podcaster Roland Martin on Monday night, blaming the state for attempting to “siphon off” Jackson’s resources, rather than providing help.

“Don’t allow somebody to step up and act like they’re your savior,” Lumumba said. “Don’t allow them to come in sheep’s clothing like they’re trying to support us when they tried to take our airport. There was an effort to take over our school district, right? And now, there’s an effort to take over our water.”

Lumumba was referring to the state’s ongoing effort to take over the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport, as well as what he says are efforts to take over the city’s water system.

The city is currently suing the state to block legislation that would replace the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority with a regional board made up of state and city of Jackson appointees, as well as appointees from other local governments. That case is currently on appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

As for Lumumba’s claims on a state takeover of water, Gov. Tate Reeves said he was open to all options, including privatizing the city’s system.

“I think you’re seeing more and more individuals recognize that the operations of city government in general, but particularly the operations of the water system,” he said on September 5. “It ain’t Republican or Democrat or ideological, it’s about delivering a basic service to the people you represent.”

Lumumba was being interviewed as part of a Poor People’s Campaign Livestream event shown on social media.

The mayor also questioned some state entities on their motives for coming off Jackson water. “You have UMMC, which is the medical center that is owned by the University of Mississippi and is a state entity. While Jackson is dealing with water issues, they have a water tower. You look at the state fairgrounds. While Jackson has a problem, they have created a well that services them with water so that they don’t have to deal with those issues,” he said. “Time and again, we see the state create guardrails that protect them... but don’t protect the citizens of Jackson.”

UMMC has had its own water system for years, but also relies on Jackson water at some of its off-campus locations and to provide fire protection. The hospital enacted a fire watch as a result of the ongoing crisis.

Drilling efforts at the fairgrounds began last year, following the 2021 Winter Water Crisis. That crisis also was caused when inclement weather led to equipment failures at the Curtis plant. It also left tens of thousands of people without water for weeks.

Agricultural Commissioner Andy Gipson had floated the idea of providing well water from the fairgrounds to other parts of the Capitol Complex.

“I had them look at what it would take to tie that well to the downtown area. Is it sufficient to provide water for the downtown Capitol Complex, for the nerve center of the state of Mississippi?” he said previously. “When the water goes out, not only do we risk not being able to have water to drink or water to flush commodes, but our servers can go down. Information technology can be at risk.”

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