Water Woes Mississippi

Jim Craig, with the Mississippi State Department of Health, left, leads Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, right, Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, center, and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, rear, as they walk past sedimentation basins at the city of Jackson's O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Facility in Ridgeland, Miss., Friday, Sept. 2, 2022.

(The Center Square) – Responding to a pair of federal legislators, Gov. Tate Reeves said he and his administration are committing to repairing water infrastructure in the state capital.

Representatives Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, and Bennie Thompson, D-MS, chastised the Republican governor for the handling of water infrastructure in Jackson, which forced residents to rely on bottled water, boiled water, or drinking contaminated water during the 45-day Jackson water crisis from Aug. 30 to Sept. 15.

The governor issued an emergency declaration and called in National Guard troops as the crisis was investigated and repaired, as previously reported by The Center Square.

“My administration is deeply committed to ensuring that all federal funds received by Mississippi for drinking water systems upgrades have been in the past and will continue to be in the future made available and distributed among Mississippi’s more than 1,100 water systems on an objective and race-neutral basis,” Reeves wrote in his response.

In the letter from the federal legislators, they wrote about their “continued concern” regarding the water crisis, while writing that Mississippi had received $10 billion in federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and an additional $429 million that was to be used to address water infrastructure issues across the state.

The duo took issue not only with the state’s response to the crisis, but also pointed out media coverage over the last decade of Reeves’ “personal efforts to block money to fund water system repairs in the capital city.”

In the letter, they asked for a breakdown of localities, utilities and other entities “who have received, or will receive, funding from both federal laws that would be used to repair or invest in drinking water systems."

Reeves’ response detailed “systematic failures of city management” that “ultimately led to the need” for the state to step in and “stabilize” the city’s water system.

“In late August, with a nearly month-long boil water alert in place, and the two primary raw water pumps at O.B. Curtis previously removed for repairs and out of commission, the total collapse of the City’s water system was imminent,” Reeves wrote.

Reeves also pointed to the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, that a letter was sent to Jackson “expressing” an intention “to file action against the city” under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

In the letter, Reeves wrote that Jackson had received “far more funds” than it was entitled to, detailing in fiscal year 2021 the city was awarded nearly $28 million, accounting for 68.4% of funds disbursed. That total accounted for more than 93% of the amount granted to larger communities in the state.

Associate Editor

Brent Addleman is an Associate Editor and a veteran journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He has served as editor of newspapers in Pennsylvania and Texas, and has also worked at newspapers in Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Kentucky.