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Jacksonians Must Boil Water As Washington Clears $600 Million For Water Crisis

Bennie Thompson speaking at a podium, with the red and white stripes of the US flag behind him
Congress voted to send the $1.7 trillion government funding bill to President Joe Biden’s desk on Dec. 23, 2022, including $600 million in federal funds to address the ongoing water crisis in Jackson, Miss. Rep. Bennie Thompson, pictured, represents Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Jackson, and negotiated for the funding. Photo by Grace Marion

JACKSON, MISS.—The weekend after Congress passed the omnibus spending bill containing $600 million for Jackson’s water system, the winter storm blanketing the country has caused a citywide boil-water notice, reducing pressure across much of the city. 

Interim Third Party Manager Ted Henifin warned the Mississippi Free Press last week that the distribution system was still seriously at risk from a deep freeze. He acknowledged in the interview that while the capital city’s water-treatment plants have improved since the beginning of federal intervention in the system, little could be done to prevent breaks in the beleaguered pipe system on such short notice.

Water Distribution Today

City of Jackson Communications Director Melissa F. Payne confirmed in a Monday morning statement today that the issue lies somewhere in Jackson’s distribution system.

“We are producing significant amounts of water and pushing that into the system but the pressure is not increasing—despite those efforts at the plants,” Payne wrote. “The issue has to be significant leaks in the system that we have yet to identify. We are continuing the search today, supplementing our workforce with EPA and contractor resources.”

Henifin explained previously that a large team of contractors would supplement the response to the freeze if needed. “We’ve got one contractor we know has five crews ready to come help us,” he said. “If we do have a lot of breaks, we (want to) bring in as many resources as we can.”

Jackson is not the only southern city struggling to cope with the severe winter storm. Both Memphis, Tenn., and Shreveport, La., are currently under citywide boil-water notices due to disruptions from the freeze.

Today, water distribution will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Candlestick Plaza off Cooper Road and at 2875 McDowell Road From 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., water distribution will continue at the corner of Northside Drive and Manhattan Road near Smilow Prep. Additional water distribution will continue from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Metrocenter Mall near the Dillard’s loading dock, and from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Byram at Davis Road Park. 

Residents unable to travel to water distribution sites should call 311 or 601-960-1875.

$600 Million For Water System

Last Friday, Congress passed a $1.7 trillion government funding bill, which includes $600 million to address the Jackson water crisis. The same day, President Joe Biden signed the bill, delivering a significant federal investment to the Mississippi capital city’s water system.

Jackson’s newly established interim third-party management team will soon enjoy a massive war chest to fund its revitalization of the water system, a project previously estimated to have a total cost of $1 billion.

The House passed the bill in a 225-201 vote on Friday, Dec. 23. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District, a Democratic leader who was a key negotiator in the push for the water funds, voted for the bill. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who was involved in the effort to secure federal funds for Jackson, also voted yes when the bill came before the Senate.

The rest of Mississippi’s congressional delegation, all Republicans, voted no: Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith; Rep. Trent Kelly of the 1st Congressional District; Rep. Michael Guest of the 3rd Congressional District; and outgoing Rep. Steven Palazzo of the 4th Congressional District.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency retains $1 million of the funds in order to provide continuous “management and oversight” on how the money is spent, and is obligated to provide yearly reports to Congress. Ted Henifin, who is heading up the management team’s operations, broke down the purpose of the funds in an interview with the Mississippi Free Press last week. 

“The legislation puts the $600 million under the control of the Environmental Protection Agency; $150 million of that is what they call ‘technical assistance,’ which means broad use for EPA. That could be used for buying out debt, or providing professional services. It can even be used for operations and maintenance costs,” Henifin said.

The remaining $450 million is earmarked for “capital projects,” meaning the sort of large-scale engineering projects needed to update the capital city’s water-treatment plants and revamp its distribution system. Henifin confirmed that the $450 million would pass through the State Revolving Loan Fund program, but most likely in the form of 100% “principal forgiveness loans,” a relatively roundabout way to engineer a grant.

How They Voted: Government Funding Bill, Including $600 Million For Jackson Water Crisis
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., were the only members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation to vote for the $1.7 trillion government funding package, which includes $600 million for Jackson’s water system. The other four members of the delegation all voted no.

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson, a Jackson man who is one of the advocates for federal investment in Jackson’s water system, reacted shortly after the passage of the omnibus bill. 

“As families begin to gather for the holiday season, today’s action providing emergency funding to address the fundamental need of safe drinking water for every household in Jackson should be celebrated as a promise of equitable infrastructure services for all families everywhere,” he said in a statement.

When the news of the omnibus bill’s passage arrived, Henifin and the rest of Jackson’s water team were busy combating the sudden winter freeze, as it plunged Jackson’s temperatures below freezing.

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