JACKSON, Miss.—The City of Jackson will soon begin receiving federal funds to pay for repairing its beleaguered water system from the $600 million package Congress allocated and President Joe Biden approved last month, in addition to over $195 million from other funding sources since September 2022.
”[T]he appropriation means that these funds have been set aside for Jackson for reimbursement as we identify and complete our various water-infrastructure projects,” Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said at a press conference on Thursday, Jan. 5.
“The process of repairing, replacing and modernizing the system will take years to complete, and our system remains vulnerable to severe weather events,” he added. “It has been deteriorating for decades, and there isn’t a valve to turn or a part to replace that can fix that overnight.”
Jackson’s troubled water system has suffered multiple system-wide failures since 2021, including in late December 2022 that continued into this month amid a winter freeze. This nearly two-week-long event cut off water to more than 150,000 people and forced Jackson Public Schools to hold virtual classes on Thursday and Friday—the first two days of the new semester. Many schools and offices still have low or no water pressure.
A U.S. Department of Justice order from November 2022 transferred control of the water system to Interim Third-Party Manager Ted Henifin, who will oversee plans to spend the congressional funds.
The appropriation includes $450 million for “capital projects” and $150 million for “technical assistance.” As the Mississippi Free Press previously reported, Henifin said at a press conference that the $150 million has “much broader applications, still water-focused, but we can use it for a variety of things.”
The mayor said Thursday that Henifin will provide him with “a timeline and implementation plan that will let the public see the steps being taken, the expected start and finish of projects, and the impact that each project will have on residents.”
Mayor: City Gets a Total of $795 Million
In addition to the $600 million, the mayor said that the City has received other funding in recent months to deal with problems of the water system, sewer and wastewater. That includes $20 million from the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 that Congress appropriated when it passed the federal stop-gap funding bill in September 2022 and $100 million in additional funds from the Water Resource and Development Act of 2022, which Congress passed in December.
Other funding sources include $4 million from the State and Tribal Response Program of the Environmental Protection Agency and more than $71 million from the American Rescue Plan Act via the Mississippi Municipality and County Water Infrastructure Matching Grant Program in November 2022.
“Today, with these investments, the City of Jackson is nearly $800 million closer than we’ve ever been to providing the quality of life that our residents deserve,” the mayor said. “With this massive contribution, Jackson has acquired $795,000,259.40 in grants and direct appropriations under this administration.”
“This collective funding represents the efforts of my administration, local and federal partners, and what they have put forth in just over 92 days to bring a long overdue historic investment into the city’s water and sewer infrastructure,” he added.
Lumumba said replacing the distribution pipes across the city is a priority and announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will use the $100 million from the Water Resource and Development Act of 2022 to replace small-diameter pipes and sewer mains in the next two years.
“The one thing we know for certain, as we have the small diameter pipes, as we have pipes that are insufficient to meet our needs, that constantly fail and break, that regardless of whether you, you repair the existing water treatment, or if we build a new one, you still have to fix all of the distribution lines,” the mayor said. “So that’s one of the areas that we know that we’re gonna be tackling as soon as we can.”
School District Goes Virtual A Second Day
Henifin said Thursday that efforts are continuing to bring water to all parts of the city following the freezing temperatures Jackson experienced late last month. “We’re continually looking at what was going on in the system, (and) we’ve made a lot of changes this morning to try to make the water get out to South Jackson so everyone has water,” he said.
The Jackson Public School District said in a press release on Thursday that it had “a total of (22) schools with low or no water pressure” and is again going virtual today after doing the same on Thursday, the first day of the semester.
“Although there are fewer schools directly impacted at this time, we’ve continued to see fluctuation in pressure across schools,” the district said.
“This, combined with the threat of freezing temperatures tonight and possible water main breaks, threatens our ability to maintain a safe and healthy learning environment,” JPS continued. “We will continue to evaluate our water supply and provide updates on Saturday and Sunday regarding plans for school on Monday, Jan. 9.”