The EPA inspector general office is now probing the federal response in Jackson, Miss., where a public water system crashed and left 150,000 people without safe drinking water.
The office previously issued a scathing report about the agency’s handling of the Flint, Mich., water crisis. The crisis in Mississippi’s capital city revealed the devastating disparities that minority and underserved communities with degraded infrastructure can face.
It is an issue of mounting importance. There have become more heightened threats from climate change, sparking more extreme weather and severe flooding.
The disaster also revealed deep divisions between the local and state leadership over funding. A top House member accused the state’s Republican leadership of standing in the way of financial help.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves late last month declared a state of emergency for Jackson after torrential rains and flooding of the Pearl River overwhelmed the water treatment plant there. This created dangerously low water and eliminated the delivery of clean drinking water to tens of thousands of residents.
President Joe Biden quickly followed by issuing an emergency declaration. This entitled the state to both help and money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Since then, the Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District has begun performing an assessment of pumps at the O.B. Curtis water treatment plant, the facility at the center of the crisis.
For years the water systems in Jackson have been the target of EPA enforcement. The environmental agency has issued emergency orders and notices of noncompliance. It has also flagged a plethora of other issues and complaints, including maintenance issues, inadequate staffing, inoperable equipment, and poor monitoring for lead and other contaminants.