The US Environmental Protection Agency is ready to propose a long-term presence on the ground in Jackson, Mississippi, to help solve its decades-long drinking problem. water, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN on Tuesday.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan is visiting Jackson on Tuesday after ongoing negotiations with city and state officials, according to the source, aimed at creating a legal agreement to address ongoing federal involvement in the African American city’s water system.
Regan’s trip will include a public forum with city officials Tuesday evening.
This is the administrator’s fourth trip to Jackson. Regan’s first trip It came on the EPA’s “Journey for Justice” tour, which began in November 2021 to shed light on environmental injustice, especially in black and brown communities.
A few months after that initial visit, Jackson suffered a major water plant failure after heavy flooding. The failure highlighted Jackson’s long-standing problems with water due to a dilapidated and neglected infrastructure, including an ailing water plant and aging pipes that city and state leaders have long known were not properly maintained.
The crisis has affected about 150,000 residents of Jackson. The latest setback came after the city’s main sewage treatment plant began to fail during the August floods, leaving people without drinking water and causing shortages to flush toilets and fight fires. Even after the water pressure was restored, the liquid in the faucets was still not safe to drink.
The EPA launched a study in mid-September to issue an advisory for weeks in the city to boil tap water before using it for drinking, cooking, making ice, washing dishes or brushing teeth.
The crisis has been fueled in part by rains that have flooded the Perla River and affected the pumps at the main water treatment plant. The flooding exacerbated long-standing problems at Jackson’s OB Curtis Water Treatment Plant.
The EPA opened a federal civil rights investigation into the crisis affecting a city that is 83 percent African American.
In response to complaints from the NAACP and Jackson residents, the EPA said it would investigate whether the Mississippi Department of Health and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality “discriminated against the majority black population of the city of Jackson on the basis of race. Water infrastructure and treatment programs and activities.”
Mississippi last month extended the city’s state of emergency until Nov. 22, giving the state Department of Health and Emergency Management Agency the authority to oversee repairs at the water treatment plant.
The water problems have caused friction between city officials and the administration of Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.
Residents and activists blame the water problem on years of systemic neglect, and some city leaders have accused the state of failing to respond to calls to completely overhaul the crumbling system.
Jackson’s situation is similar to that of Flint, Michigan, another predominantly black community that has struggled with its water since 2014. With an African-American population of about 54%, Flint has struggled with aging pipes, lead contamination and an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.