Jackson, MSDH face federal audit related to water system spending

Volunteers and National Guard members give out cases of bottled water during Jackson's 2022...
Volunteers and National Guard members give out cases of bottled water during Jackson's 2022 water crisis.(WLBT)
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 6:04 PM CST
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WLBT) - Jackson’s ongoing water issues have prompted more federal inquiry into the city, the state of Mississippi and the federal government itself.

EPA’s Office of Inspector General recently announced it was launching an audit into how the city of Jackson and the Mississippi State Department of Health spent federal dollars in relation to the city’s water system.

The agency also announced that it would look into the EPA itself, specifically its “response and oversight related to drinking water contamination in Jackson.”

The investigations come after EPA OIG began an initial inquiry at the height of the August/September water crisis.

“Based on what we learned through an initial inquiry on the ground there, my office now will pursue formal, comprehensive reviews to fully understand how EPA conducted oversight of the water system and how Drinking Water State Revolving funds were awarded and expanded,” Inspector General Sean O’Donnell said in a November 16 notification letter to EPA Region 4.

States provide cities with funding to address water and wastewater needs through federally funded revolving loan programs. Most of that funding is awarded to municipalities through low-interest loans.

Jackson has applied for SRF water loans three times, and in each case has received the full amount requested.

However, some have argued that Mississippi’s program was set up in a way to discriminate against Jackson in favor of smaller, majority white cities.

According to federal documents, the purpose of the audit is to find out exactly how funding and spending decisions at the state and local level impacted the water crisis, and to improve “operational efficiency to protect human health and the environment.”

Meanwhile, other investigations into Jackson’s water issues are ongoing.

In October, EPA’s Office of External Civil Rights and Environmental Justice agreed to open a civil rights investigation to determine whether the state had intentionally deprived the majority-Black city federal funding for water.

Also in October, Reps. Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney began their own inquiry into the state’s alleged disinvestment into Jackson’s water system, including claims state leaders had intentionally blocked the capital city from receiving federal infrastructure funds.

The two Democratic lawmakers expanded their investigation last month, seeking to find out how federal agencies work to identify and assist water/wastewater utilities that are vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters.

Officials with MSDH were unavailable for comment. Jackson city officials declined to comment.

The OIG anticipates issuing the final reports between July and September next year.

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