Environmental Protection Agency officials met with Jackson leaders Tuesday to discuss severe issues with the water system in Mississippi’s capital city. They said fixing the system will take years and cost millions of dollars, but for now, it’s OK for people to drink the water.
“The water is safe to drink in the immediate time frame,” said Carol Kemker, director of the Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division for the EPA, according to the Clarion Ledger. “We’d like to try and minimize the boil-water notices.”
The meeting was the first time Jackson officials have met with EPA officials publicly since an inspection a year ago found severe violations at the city’s two water treatment plants.
Deficiencies included a shortage of operators and malfunctioning equipment. It raised immediate concerns about the reliability of the system to provide safe drinking water, Kemker said. She said the EPA particularly wants to keep an eye on the level of turbidity, or cloudiness, and sediment in the water system that can contain or conceal bacteria and viruses.
Jackson is under a Safe Drinking Water Act emergency order. Kemker said the order is meant to prevent “an impending dangerous condition from materializing or reduce or eliminate a dangerous situation.”
The city will be under the order until the EPA determines Jackson’s water system no longer has violations. Neither Kemker nor city officials could give a timeline for when it might be lifted.
“It will take several years to complete work necessary to repair and rehabilitate the drinking water system here,” she said.
Earlier this year, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba requested $47 million from the state to address specific deficiencies listed by the EPA. It has also applied for federal grants.
The city was recently awarded over $43 million from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan, and that could be used toward water system improvements.
Jackson has about 161,000 residents. A winter storm that coated large parts of the South in snow and ice in February caused machinery at one of Jackson’s water treatment plants to freeze. That left parts of the city without water for weeks, and the entire city remained under a boil water notice for a month because of low pressure.
Some residents lost water again for a short period of time late last month and were under boil notice after a fire at the water treatment plant.
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