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Biden Approves Gov. Reeves’ Request For Help Amid Jackson Water Crisis

President Joe Biden approved Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ request for a federal emergency declaration for the State of Mississippi amid Jackson’s ongoing water crisis.

In a statement announcing the president’s decision Tuesday night, the White House said Biden is authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency “to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Hinds County.”

“Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent Federal funding for a period of 90 days.”

FEMA named Allan Jarvis as the federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area, the statement said.

Gov. Reeves formally asked Biden to declare a federal emergency in a letter several hours earlier on Tuesday night as Jackson residents continued to deal without access to safe, running water in the capital city. His letter said “the current situation is now critical and requires assistance from the federal government.”

“I submit this request to avoid devastating impacts on approximately 180,000 citizens in and around the Jackson metro area,” the governor wrote. “Without water pressure, the fire-fighting capability of the City of Jackson and Hinds County will be severely diminished. The University of Mississippi Medical Center and Merit Health Central hospital are dependent on water for fire suppression and patient care. Additionally, citizens reliant on Jackson’s water system will be without accessible water to drink, bathe, cook, clean, and flush.”

In a statement Tuesday evening, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said that “under the requested Emergency Declaration, FEMA would be authorized to provide emergency measures, including direct Federal assistance, under the Public Assistance program at 75 percent federal funding.”

The City of Jackson had already been under a boil water notice for more than a month when residents citywide lost access to water pressure and clean running water due to broken pumps at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant.

“Both pumps are broken and are currently being serviced,” MEMA said. “The plant is not producing adequate water pressure, and some residents are experiencing outages. The water treatment plant provides water to the City of Jackson, City of Byram, two major hospitals, multiple dialysis clinics, long-term care facilities, Jackson Public School District, numerous restaurants and daycares.”

Joe Biden walks with folder under arm though a White House hallway
White House officials briefed President Joe Biden on the Jackson water crisis on Aug. 30, 2022. File Photo/White House by Adam Schultz

Despite the current acute crisis, the City’s water woes have been decades in the making. Residents lost access to safe, running water for a month after a winter storm in early 2021.

In his letter to Biden, Reeves said “the total or near loss of water pressure … has created a condition of disaster and extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.” He said he was “preparing to mobilize” the Mississippi Department of Transportation, public utilities, the Mississippi National Guard and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety “to assist in life-safety efforts.”

“I anticipate that emergency actions will be ongoing until the water pumps at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant are brought back into service and water pressure restored to the impacted residents,” Reeves said. “At that time, I intend to withdraw the agencies listed above and allow the City of Jackson to maintain its system.”

Earlier Tuesday, before Reeves sent the formal request to Biden, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “FEMA is working closely with the state officials to identify needs, and the EPA is coordinating with industry partners to expedite delivery of critical treatment equipment for emergency repairs at the City of Jackson water treatment facilities.” The NAACP publicly called on Reeves to ask the president for aid in a statement Tuesday as well.

“The State of Mississippi is determined to recover from this water crisis,” Reeves said in his Tuesday evening letter, but added that “Mississippi will not be able to recover without the aid of the federal government.”

The governor acknowledged Biden’s declaration in a tweet just before midnight Tuesday.

“Our federal disaster declaration for Jackson water has been approved,” he wrote. “Grateful to @FEMA_Deanne (FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell) for our long conversation about the crisis this evening, for she and Gracia and @femaregion4 team for their swift work, and the White House for ultimately granting the request.”

You can read Gov. Reeves’ letter to the president here.

Also read reporter Nick Judin’s award-winning 2021 multi-part series revealing factors creating the Jackson water crisis over the decades.

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