The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a proposed order in federal court to appoint a third party manager to oversee the public drinking water system in Jackson, Mississippi, following a months-long crisis that saw 180,000 of its residents without clean and safe drinking water.
A press release from the Department of Justice said the purpose of appointing the Interim Third Party Manager would be to “stabilize” the water system, as well as “build confidence” in the ability of the system to provide safe drinking water to its customers.
“Today the Justice Department is taking action in federal court to address long-standing failures in the city of Jackson’s public drinking water system,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement, as E&E News reported. “The Department of Justice takes seriously its responsibility to keep the American people safe and to protect their civil rights. Together with our partners at EPA, we will continue to seek justice for the residents of Jackson, Mississippi. And we will continue to prioritize cases in the communities most burdened by environmental harm.”
According to the press release, the Interim Third Party Manager would have the authority to maintain and operate the city’s drinking water system, “Implement capital improvements to the city’s public drinking water system” and “Correct conditions within the city’s public drinking water system that present, or may present, an imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of the city’s residents.”
Both the city of Jackson and the Mississippi State Department of Heath signed the order. The Department of Justice also filed a complaint against the city on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The complaint alleged that the city had failed to provide drinking water to its customers in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told The Guardian in a statement that the city was “pleased we have finally reached an agreement that represents a critical next step in our efforts to provide immediate and long-term solutions for Jackson’s water issues.”
On July 29, the Mississippi State Department of Health issued a boil-water notice for the public drinking water system in Jackson. The following month, the aging infrastructure of Jackson’s water system, coupled with heavy rains and flooding, led to a loss of running water throughout the city and in some areas of neighboring Hinds County. On October 31, the EPA determined that the water in Jackson was once again safe to drink.
“Every American — regardless of where they live, their income, or the color of their skin — deserves access to safe, reliable drinking water,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said in the press release. “For many years now, the people of Jackson have lived in uncertainty — uncertainty about whether, on any given day, the water that flows from their taps will be safe to drink. With our court filings today, we have taken an important step towards finally giving the people of Jackson the relief they so desperately deserve.”