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Congress Includes $600 Million For Jackson Water System In Omnibus Bill

Rep. Bennie Thompson close up, looking straight forward while adjusting his glasses with his thumb and index finger
U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., announced the inclusion of $600 million in federal funds for the Jackson water crisis in December’s congressional omnibus bill on Dec. 20, 2022. The bill could establish an enormous well of funding for repairing the City’s badly damaged water infrastructure. Photo by Nick Judin

The City of Jackson is on the cusp of receiving an unprecedented $600 million in federal funds to alleviate the water crisis and rebuild significant portions of the drinking water system. U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., announced that the congressional year-end funding omnibus bill will include the enormous grant exclusively for the City of Jackson.

Of the funds that will come to Jackson if Congress approves the omnibus bill, $150 million is designated for “technical assistance,” and $450 million is designated for “capital projects.” Previously, a U.S. Department of Justice order detailed the many critical infrastructure projects needed to repair Jackson’s water systems, including large-scale winterization and automation improvements, as well as stabilizing the system’s drained staff reserves with a “minimum appropriate staffing” contract.

The congressional omnibus bill is the major year-end spending package that Congress must pass by the end of the week to avert a federal government shutdown. Jackson’s funds occupy fewer than two pages of the 4,000-page, $1.7-trillion bill. But if passed, those two pages will authorize a majority of the funds officials have requested to restore the 82%-Black capital city’s drinking-water system.

Jackson’s water-system woes reached their nadir this year when heavy rains and a flooding reservoir overwhelmed the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant. A year after a winter freeze took the City’s water system down for a full month, Jackson residents spent weeks under boil-water notices; the situation required federal intervention and a state of emergency to stabilize the system.

Since then, the Justice Department has established an independent third-party manager to take control of the water and its billing administration for the foreseeable future. The use of any funds Congress sends the State will be under strict federal scrutiny, including from the DOJ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

State and local officials have estimated that a complete overhaul of the City’s water system would cost approximately $1 billion. But much of that funding would be spent on repairing and upgrading the sprawling distribution system beneath Jackson’s streets, a process that would take years to complete even with adequate funding. The $600 million, then, could ensure that incoming water system manager Ted Henifin will be well-financed in his charge to build a sustainable foundation for Jackson’s water.

Soda ash silo north
Rehabilitating Jackson’s beleaguered water treatment plants, like the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant (pictured), and addressing a staffing crisis is likely the first order of business for the funds expected to come to Jackson. Photo by Nick Judin

The enormous tranche of funding is the result of a bipartisan effort on the part of Mississippi’s congressional delegation. Rep. Thompson, whose district includes most of Jackson, led the efforts to secure federal support for rebuilding Jackson’s water system. 

“I look forward to voting for the complete omnibus package,” Thompson said in his announcement today. “I am proud to support the $600 million that will be included in the omnibus bill to help Jackson, Mississippi. In addition to the $600 million, Jackson will also receive additional funding from the omnibus bill.”

Though critical of Jackson’s decision-making as well, Thompson has repeatedly accused the State of negligence for failing to properly support its capital city over a period of decades.

“Jackson is the capital,” The congressman said previously. “Everything revolves around the capital city, so it’s to everyone’s advantage for the capital city to work. And what we have is a reluctant office of the governor who’s decided that for whatever reason, Jackson would be treated differently.” The Republican governor, Tate Reeves, pinned the blame on Jackson leaders as he sought federal assistance in September.

At a press event at Jackson State University last month, Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, a Democrat, addressed Sen. Wicker’s participation in Jackson’s push for federal support.

“I can personally attest that Senator Wicker has been available to me whenever I have a question or whenever there is a request. I want to say publicly I am appreciative of that.”

The omnibus bill began debate with a vote of 70-25, suggesting broad Congressional support ahead in spite of limited Republican pushback.

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