Jackson’s troubled sewer system will now be under the oversight of Ted Henifin, the interim-third party manager a federal judge appointed last year to oversee the City’s ailing water system. The Mississippi capital’s wastewater system has at least 215 known leaks, with sewage pouring down the streets in some areas.
The decision follows an agreement between the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the City of Jackson.
‘Seek Justice, Health and Safety’
Under the agreement, “expedited measures will be taken to address the City of Jackson’s deteriorating sewer infrastructure and inadequate operation and maintenance, which have caused residents and businesses to endure sewage discharges that threaten public health and the environment,” Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a July 26 statement.
“This action shows the continuing commitment of the Justice Department to seek justice, health and safety for the residents of Jackson, Mississippi, and to prioritize enforcement in the communities most burdened by environmental harm,” he added.
Following the agreement to place Ted Henifin in charge of the sewer system, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi Judge Henry Wingate issued the order appointing Henifin to oversee the sewer system on Monday, July 31.
EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield said in the Justice Department’s statement that the appointment will help the government fulfill its mission “to protect the health and safety of Jackson residents by proposing the oversight and programs needed to restore Jackson’s sewer systems.”
‘The Next Step’
The agreement says the sewage system continued to deteriorate even after a 2012 agreement and 2013 consent decree. That failure, the statement says, resulted in violations of the federal Clean Water Act, the Mississippi Air and Water Pollution Control Act and Jackson’s own National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. The agreement notes that between March 2020 and March 2022, Jackson released 4.5 billion gallons of untreated or undertreated sewage into the Pearl River. The City also reported 460 sewer overflows, which released over 111 million gallons of untreated wastewater into the environment.
The agreement grants Ted Henifin the authority to operate and maintain the system to ensure compliance with those federal and state laws in addition to the City’s permits; to do repair work on the Savanna and Trahon wastewater treatment plants; to investigate and repair certain areas of the sewer system, including 215 areas the City has already identified as emergency sewer failure locations; to take steps to keep oils, fats and grease out of the system; to regularly clean and inspect lines; and to post signage about sewer overflows in cases where public exposure is likely.
“This agreement is an appropriate next step in our enforcement efforts to ensure that the City of Jackson lives up to its responsibility, pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act and Mississippi law, to address and correct issues with its sewer system,” Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director Chris Wells said in the statement with the Justice Department.
The agreement says $125 million has already been authorized for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design and construct improvements to Jackson’s sewer system under the Water Resources Development Act. The City also has over $8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds that can help fund the improvements.