White House, EPA announce first $115M in federal funding on its way to fix Jackson water

Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 10:02 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The first $115 million in federal funds allocated for the capital city’s water system are on the way.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the city would receive the first tranche of the $600 million in Congressional appropriations approved in December.

“For years, the people of Jackson, Mississippi, have suffered the consequences of aging water infrastructure. Last summer, the city’s water system reached a crisis point when a major flood aggravated longstanding problems in the system and left tens of thousands of people without any running water for days on end. Long before then, families in Jackson lived under the constant threat of boil water orders,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

“That’s why I directed my administration to make sure the people of Jackson have the resources they need and deserve.”

It’s unclear when the funds will arrive, but Mitch Landrieu, a senior advisor and infrastructure coordinator for the president, told WLBT Tuesday morning that the funds were on the way.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be there before the close of business, but it’s on its way,” he said. “It’s the first allocation that’s hitting the ground as we speak, that the third-party manager and the city and other folks will be able to use to help fix the water system.”

The announcement comes the same day JXN Water announced the city was experiencing reduced pressure in some areas due to an existing line break near Fortification Street and Capers Avenue, and a new leak yet to be discovered.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the money will be used to help carry out mandates in the court’s stipulated order.

“These funds will help stabilize and rebuild the city’s water system and make significant strides to provide reliable water service to people’s homes, schools, and businesses,” he said. “As I’ve said since the onset of this crisis, we will continue to stand with the people of Jackson and work to resolve this longstanding issue together.”

Congress allocated the dollars as part of an omnibus spending bill passed in December. It was approved months after flooding from the Pearl River led to a shutdown of the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, Jackson’s main treatment facility, leaving tens of thousands of people without running water.

The crisis prompted a temporary state takeover of Jackson’s water system. Months later, the federal government took control of it as part of a federal court order.

“The president said very early, you know, ‘I want to send a team down there.’ He sent FEMA down. He sent the Corps of Engineers down. I came down with a team of folks in partnership with the EPA. The [EPA] administrator has been down there numerous times,” Landrieu said. “We’re in fairly regular touch with the mayor and [Rep. Bennie Thompson] and, of course, the state as well to try to do everything we can as part of the president’s... commitment... to make sure that we have clean air and safe water.”

File - U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
File - U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)(Rogelio V. Solis | AP)

Thompson said Tuesday’s news was an “incredible milestone toward ensuring safe access to drinking water for Jackson,” and the “first step in resolving the water crisis for the citizens.”

“It is a testament to the work Congress has done to provide this funding to Jackson,” he said. “The continued dedication and commitment of President Biden’s administration is essential and very much appreciated.”

Sen. Roger Wicker said he “was glad to work with members of the Mississippi congressional delegation to secure emergency funding to help.”

“Last year’s prolonged water crisis showed us the urgent need for drinking water infrastructure improvements,” he said. “With this first award, the city of Jackson will have the resources necessary to begin addressing many of the longstanding challenges with its water supply and help guard against future emergencies.”

The $115 million is just a portion of the total amount of federal dollars awarded to Jackson late last year.

In addition to the $600 million allocated through the December omnibus bill, another $100 million was directed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address water and sewer needs, while another $100 million was allocated for Jackson’s water system through the Water Resources Development Act.

It’s unclear what projects the funds will go toward. Interim Third-Party Manager Ted Henifin was not immediately available for comment.

Henifin previously said he wanted to use some of the federal dollars to pay off Jackson’s $290 million water and sewer debt. However, a court filing indicated the funds could only go to water needs.

He also said early on he wanted to replace hundreds of miles of small-diameter water lines to help improve service to residents and cut down on water leaks. As of last month, teams had been brought on to repair dozens of broken lines. Crews also were brought in to replace a major water main at the former Colonial Country Club golf course.

In May, Henifin said he was having to hold invoices for work because federal funds had not yet come in, and the city transfers to JXN Water could no longer cover capital expenses.

Landrieu said it will be up to local leaders to determine exactly how the dollars would be spent. “Hopefully, we can help cure the difficulties in a system that like many, many others around the country are very, very old.”

Read President Joe Biden’s full statement below:

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