EPA launches federal civil rights investigation into Jackson’s long-running water crisis

On Thursday, in response to complaints filed by the NAACP and Jackson residents, the EPA announced it would investigate whether the Mississippi Department of Health and Mississippi Environmental Quality “discriminated against the majority black population of the city of Jackson. Race in the funding of water infrastructure and treatment programs and activities,” the announcement said.

The NAACP praised the EPA’s action.

“EPA’s decision today is a significant first step in holding the state accountable for its role in exacerbating the Jackson water crisis,” said NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Director Abré Conner. “For too long, Jackson residents, like black communities across this country, have had access to water weaponized against them.”

The city of approximately 150,000 people is 83% black.

CNN has reached out to Governor Tate Reeves’ office for comment.

The water crisis became so severe for several months this year that the National Guard was sent to help distribute bottled water in Mississippi’s capital city.

Resident Virginia Evans told CNN recently that the water problems have become so alarming that she remains afraid to drink or cook with it. That’s despite state officials lifting a more than 40-day boil water advisory last month and declaring the water safe.

For the past six months, sometimes her toilets wouldn’t flush or the water coming out of the faucets in the house was brown and had low pressure, she said.

The city has long had problems with its water system. Residents and activists point to it as one of the main drivers of years of systemic neglect. Some capitals have accused the state of failing to respond to requests for help to upgrade the poor water system.

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According to the latest figures from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the annual bill for the state’s water crisis has reached $12.6 million. Bottled water for distribution events is about 25% of that amount.

The EPA has been pressing the city for improvements for years, and in September the US Department of Justice, on behalf of the environmental agency, asked the city to “engage in immediate negotiations related to the City’s recent drinking water crisis,” according to a letter obtained. By CNN affiliate WAPT. Officials from both agencies met with the mayor, the Justice Department told CNN in a statement last month.
It was not an invitation to polite conversation, as the land’s top law enforcement office warned it was poised to file a lawsuit under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which charges the EPA with setting and enforcing basic health standards for tap water. The EPA has launched an investigation into Jackson’s water crisis.

CNN’s Steve Almasy, Nicquel Terry Ellis and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.