American Rescue Plan Act

City approves plan to seek more than $35 million in water-repair plan

101 views – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-09-23 12:07:25

Jim Craig, with the Mississippi State Department of Health, left, leads Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, right, Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), center, and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, rear, as they walk past sedimentation basins at the City of Jackson's O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Facility in Ridgeland, Miss., Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. Jackson's water system partially failed following flooding and heavy rainfall that exacerbated longstanding problems in one of two water-treatment plants.

Jackson’s City Council is asking for more than $35 million in state money for eight projects in connection with water and infrastructure projects for the city.

The city authorized submitting a 50-50 matching grant application to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for the Mississippi Municipality and County Water and Infrastructure grant program for matching project funds.

The request came during a special-called city council meeting Thursday afternoon.

“We are going to apply for a number of projects both at O.B. Curtis Water Plant, J.H. Fewell…

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Mayor Lumumba tackles criticism and deplores plans to take water control away from Jackson


In town hall, Mayor Lumumba tackles criticism and deplores plans to take water control away from Jackson

by Alex Rozier,
September 14, 2022

Inside the College Hill Baptist Church in West Jackson, in front of a tall, blue backlit cross, the city’s town hall to discuss its unceasing water woes Tuesday night began with a prayer.

“We thank you now Lord that we have assembled in this place, to discuss issues within this city, particularly our water,” said Louis Wright, the city’s chief administrative officer. “Continue to uplift the mayor as he looks out for the citizens of this community. We pray that Lord you will give us the blessings and the wherewithal that we need in order to overcome the issues that we’re going through.” 

On the 47th consecutive day of a state-imposed citywide boil water notice, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba went into great detail Tuesday night to discuss the logistics of Jackson’s road ahead. During the three-hour meeting, Lumumba talked through bullet points listed on a placard in front of the altar. 

Starting on a more personal note than usual for his recent public appearances, the mayor talked about moving to Jackson with his family at the age of five in 1988. The next year, Lumumba saw the fragility of the city’s infrastructure, he recalled, after some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded in Jackson shut down the water system.

“This is something that has unfortunately become a way of life in Jackson,” he said. Later, he asked the tired faces scattered in the pews in front of him, “How beautiful would it be, for us to say, regardless of party, that we were able to solve this problem in our lifetime?”

Lumumba, along with his chief financial officer, Fidelis Malembeka, pushed back against recent stories questioning how prepared the city leadership is to tackle the current crisis. Specifically, they defended against the idea that the city lacks a plan, or that it doesn’t truly know how much it would cost to fix the water system. 

The mayor said he feels it’s unfair for state and federal officials to criticize Jackson for not having a full plan when, after he’s shared what planning the city does have, those same officials offer no feedback. 

“There is little to no communication around, ‘Well your plan is lacking this,’” Lumumba said. “When it comes down to it and there’s no funding, it’s later said, ‘You have no plan.’ The reality is that not only this administration, but every administration in the recent history of the city of Jackson has had some type of plan. 

“There’s a difference between not having a plan and not having mutual priority over its funding.”

Pointing to the existence of a “very detailed plan” the city has shared with the Environmental Protection Agency, Malembeka echoed a clarification Lumumba made just earlier this week, which is that the plan is hidden behind a court-ordered confidentiality agreement.

City of Jackson Chief Financial Officer Fidelis Malembeka, Jr., during a community meeting held to update the public on the water system, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2022, at College Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

“I want everyone to understand that the city does have a plan,” he said. “Right now we have restrictions because of the confidentiality agreement that’s in place. That’s a very detailed plan, and once we’re able to share it you will see.” 

Mississippi Today could not confirm with the EPA the existence of the non-disclosure agreement by the publish date of this story.  Earlier this year, WLBT reported that neither the city nor the EPA could disclose a report that informed increases in Jackson’s sewer and water bill rates, although it’s unclear if that is due to the same confidentiality agreement.  

Lumumba, on multiple occasions, estimated that fully repairing the drinking water system would cost a billion dollars, although none of the spending proposals the city has released total more than $80 million.

“Someone will say, you have a billion dollar need, but you’re only showing us $80 million,” Malembeka. “Let’s get to the $80 million first. You can’t get to the billion dollars without getting through $80 million.”

As for reaching that goal, he added that earlier on Tuesday the Jackson City Council approved the next year’s budget that includes $30.8 million for sewer repairs and $30 million for water infrastructure. The council also adopted a plan to spend $34 million of Jackson’s $42 million in funds on water and sewer, which the state will match on a dollar for dollar basis, Malembeka said. 

Lumumba then addressed reports that state lawmakers are discussing a number of pathways that could take Jackson’s water system out of the city’s hands, such as privatization and regionalization. 

“The problem with privatization is that companies aren’t taking over your system in order to be benevolent, they’re not taking over your system just because they want to come help,” the mayor said. “They want to extract a profit from you.”

Policy experts who spoke to Mississippi Today confirmed Lumumba’s concern that private water systems often raise water bill rates, but added that those systems also have less violations of safe drinking laws. Moreover, any rate increases would have to be approved by the state Public Service Commission. 

Regionalization, or combining nearby cities’ water systems, can create “economies of scale,” lowering costs for a financially struggling city like Jackson, those experts said. But the mayor called it a “problematic solution,” questioning whether it would really lower costs for Jackson and how the needs among the different cities would be prioritized. 

After an hour-long, extensive presentation from the two city bureaucrats on Jackson’s financial outlook, officials opened the floor to questions and comments from residents. 

Ronald Gilbert, former operations supervisor at the O. B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, shares with the Mayor and others his experience of working at the water treatment plant, during a community meeting held at College Hill Missionary Baptist Church, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

Ronald Gilbert talked about his time working as an operations supervisor at the O.B. Curtis treatment plant for five years. Gilbert was critical of the city’s hiring and recruiting process for plant workers.

“We weren’t hiring the right people in (1995), we weren’t hiring the right people in 2005, and now you’re going to farm it out to other states,” he said, referencing recent support from other states to bring O.B. Curtis back online as part of a mutual aid agreement.

Gilbert added that when he left his job in 2005 to work in Georgia, he doubled his salary “as a grunt.” 

One woman, Evelyn Ford, talked about her challenges picking up water at one of the distribution sites. Ford had gone to get water for other homes, and said that after being told there was a limit on how much water she could get, a state trooper stopped her and asked for her license. The trooper called her “disrespectful,” she said, and later asked her to leave.

“I might be able to get the water, but I felt humiliated,” Ford said. “We’re already having a hard enough time as it is asking for water from someone else, now you’re telling me you’re going to restrict me.” 

Residents vented on issues outside of just water, discussing , economic development, roads, and creeks overflowing with sewage. 

Lumumba, summarizing the sentiment he’s shared at press conferences for the last two years asking for outside help with the city’s water system, responded to the speakers bluntly: “You have a city where our needs exceed our ability to pay for them.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.


Leaders ask Jackson mayor: Where’s your water plan?


With long-term Jackson water fix in mind, leaders ask the mayor: Where’s your plan?

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said Tuesday that the city has had “many, many plans” to fund repairs for its beleaguered drinking water system.

But as of this week, Lumumba had not shared a comprehensive, long-term vision for improving the city’s water infrastructure system with state and federal leaders — the only ones who can pay for the needed repairs and replacements necessary to ensure safe, reliable water for the future. 

Generations of Jackson elected officials neglected the capital city’s water system, culminating with its failure to produce running water last week. State and federal leaders, who for decades ignored city leaders’ dire warnings and funding requests, acted swiftly to restore water service to the city’s 150,000-plus residents.

With running water again flowing across the capital city, state leaders are now turning their focus to the critical negotiations about how — or even if — they can ensure Mississippi’s largest city won’t lose water again.

Jackson officials have been caught in a “fluid” planning cycle, city spokesman Justin Vicory explained. The city in recent years has planned spending based on what state and federal money is available. Meanwhile, state and federal officials say they need a plan from Jackson in order to free up funding. 

Lumumba has, as recently as last week, mentioned creating a committee to formalize a new, long-term strategy. While staying quiet on many specifics, he has said that part of the new plan will include looking to contract out operations and maintenance services to support water treatment. 

But without that plan in hand, state and federal officials are left with several unanswered fundamental questions as they begin to negotiate a long-term solution: Which repairs take top priority? Is a patchwork of repairs feasible, or is system replacement the only option? How much, even ballpark, might a long-term solution cost?

The mayor has repeatedly estimated that $1 billion would fix the city’s water system, although none of Jackson’s released spending plans tally up anywhere near that total.

During a meeting with the mayor and Mississippi’s congressional delegation at Jackson State University on Wednesday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan was asked about what constitutes a plan.

“When I think about a plan, I think about what’s required to unlock federal dollars,” Regan said. “If we want to have access to the state revolving loan fund resources, the (money from the State Revolving Loan Fund) that currently exists, being competitive for the bipartisan infrastructure dollars that will exist, we need to see a plan in place that demonstrates how those resources will be spent and what they will be spent on.”

Regan said that there’s currently $43 million in existing funds from the EPA’s State Revolving Loan Fund that Jackson has access to, and that Mississippi will receive over $26 million through the program later this year.

Both Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and Republican Gov. Tate Reeves in recent days have called out city leadership for not producing a long-term water improvement plan. The city’s Democratic delegates at the state capitol, Senate leader Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, and House Speaker Philip Gunn have all also said they haven’t seen a plan.

“I have not seen a plan. I’ve heard from the mayor and others that they have a plan, that they’re working on it, but I have not physically seen a plan with my own eyes,” Thompson told Mississippi Today last week. “… It would be difficult to get the kind of resources needed to fix the Jackson water system without a verifiable plan.”

“Unfortunately, we’ve never received a real plan from the city of Jackson on how to improve their water system so that the state could continue funding it,” Reeves said on Monday.

READ MORE: Rep. Bennie Thompson: Treat Jackson fairly, but if it can’t run water system, let someone else

The mayor disputed those assertions in a press conference on Tuesday. And in response to a Mississippi Today public records request, the mayor’s office sent several documents on Tuesday that lay out short- and medium-range water system funding ideas. The longest term spending published in this trove of newly released documents is from a 2020 report that laid out a water spending plan of five years.

Responding to Reeves specifically, Lumumba on Tuesday pointed to a letter he sent the governor on Mar. 3, 2021, asking for $47 million in repairs after last year’s winter storms knocked out water service to thousands of Jacksonians. Hosemann, Gunn, Thompson and ’s legislative delegation were all copied on the letter. State officials, Lumumba said, never replied to the letter.  

“I know a good part of the narrative has been a lack of a plan for the city,” Lumumba said. “You, the media, have asked questions about that, and we’ve shared that we’ve had many, many plans.”

Lumumba’s office, for the first time on Tuesday, shared several documents with Mississippi Today that itemize specific needs, including improvements at the city’s largest water treatment plant, replacements of water main lines, and pay raises for the city’s water operators.

But it remains unclear what Jackson’s current spending proposal is.

One of the documents the city shared with Mississippi Today on Tuesday was a 45-page commissioned report from three private engineering firms that lays out $80 million in proposed water spending over five years. The $80 million in projects consists mostly of distribution line and water main repairs, and also includes some elevated water tank improvements. 

A separate document the city released is a plan Lumumba said he presented to Hinds County’s legislative delegation last year, prioritizing spending of the city’s money. The slideshow lays out about $21 million in proposed repairs to the O.B. Curtis water plant, about $15 million in fixes for J.H Fewell water plant and about $34 million in distribution system repairs.

Another guiding document the mayor shared with Mississippi Today on Tuesday is a list of repairs outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency in an Administrative Order on Consent the agency entered into with Jackson in 2021. While the list includes deadlines for each repair, Lumumba said the EPA has been flexible in negotiating timelines. 

The mayor added Tuesday that the city expects to finish rolling out its new water meters – which have been at the root of Jackson’s inability to bill customers, leading to a $90 million settlement with Siemens – by March of next year.

About an hour after Mississippi Today filed a records request for the plans the mayor discussed Tuesday, the city provided several documents. 

Yet three weeks ago, when another reporter asked for the city’s plan, the mayor made no reference to those documents, instead saying, “We look forward to sharing our fully-outlined plan – one that is supported by the expert advice of the U.S. Water Alliance and the Kellogg Foundation.”

When the reporter, WJTV’s Richard Lake, asked the mayor’s office for a copy of any plan, Lake was told by a city employee, “You’ll need to file a records request.” 

Ten days later, the request came back in the city’s automated filing system as “no records exist.” When Lake asked for clarification from a city employee, the reporter was told, simply: “There is a plan that is under review.”

Meanwhile, many people outside Jackson City Hall — Democrats and Republicans, Black and white officials, state and federal officials, reporters and Jackson taxpayers — are increasingly asking why the city has not produced a plan, leading to questions of whether the city can run the water system by itself any longer.

“If (the city’s) plan demonstrates that they can operate a system and get the state health department’s approval as well as the enforcement order from EPA lifted, then we’re off to the races,” Thompson said. “But you can’t put the lives of your citizens at risk … we just, in good conscience, can’t do that. If that’s not available, you then look, perhaps, at an alternative management.

“… I understand that there are some other interests out here that want to help the city get the plan done,” Thompson continued. “As soon as it’s completed, I would encourage that plan to be distributed as widely as possible. That, too, instills confidence in the public that something is being done.”

EXCLUSIVE: Rep. Bennie Thompson opens up about Jackson water crisis

Editor-in-chief Adam Ganucheau contributed reporting for this story. 

Editor’s note: Mississippi Today is one of five Jackson-based newsrooms working together since 2021 as Mississippi Spotlight, a local collaborative which is independently funded by Microsoft Corp. and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in partnership with the Community Foundation for Mississippi. The collaborative’s current project — agreed upon by the cohort’s newsroom leaders, independent of guidance from the supporting grant makers — is the Jackson water crisis. As is our editorial policy since we launched in 2016, donors to Mississippi Today have no influence or control over editorial decisions.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

JSU seeking federal funding to study water system, but state says it’s ‘not a guarantee’ 


JSU seeking federal funding to study water system, but state says it’s ‘not a guarantee’ 

Jackson State University wants to use federal pandemic relief funds to study overhauling the campus water and sewer system, an investment that officials say is necessary to maintain health and safety as the city’s water emergency has upended the start of the fall semester. 

But the Department of Finance and Administration – the state agency tasked with overseeing the $25 million in funds allocated to Mississippi’s public university system – can’t say yet if it will fund JSU’s proposal.  

Earlier this year, DFA invited all eight public universities to submit proposals that represent necessary investments in drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. The department is now evaluating projects for compliance.  

“I think it’s safe to say that the goal is that everyone would get something, but that is certainly not a guarantee,” spokesperson Marcy Scoggins said. 

JSU says that a new water system is so crucial, it will seek other state and federal funding if DFA does not approve its proposal. 

“This is something that we’re gonna actively try to do,” President Thomas Hudson told students during a virtual town hall on Tuesday following a question about JSU’s water system. “We have been working with state legislators over the years to obtain the funding to do this type of project. Step one is to do a study … that process will begin very soon.” 

The study also appears to have support from the Institutions of Higher Learning. IHL thinks the study falls under the parameters for this federal spending and anticipates it will be complete by the summer of 2023, spokesperson Caron Blanton wrote in an email. 

“DFA will determine if ARPA funds can be used for this purpose once the study is complete,” Blanton wrote. 

In May, DFA sent a letter to IHL, outlining preliminary ARPA funding that each of the eight universities could receive for projects overseen by the Bureau of Buildings, Grounds and Real Property Management. The letter requested each university submit proposals that outline scope, an engineering firm preference, and any additional funding amounts the schools would provide. 

ARPA funds must be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent before the end of 2026. 

JSU’s preliminary allocation, per the letter, was about $2.2 million, but the four projects that the university sought funding for totaled $5 million. All four of these plans, JSU’s proposal says, “must be completed regardless of funding by ARPA.” 

JSU’s proposed projects and the amount of ARPA funding requested, in order of priority, are: 

  • A water and sewer line assessment ($500,000)
  • Making a plan to move the university’s potable water system off of the city’s ($250,000)
  • Repairing and enlarging storm water pipes ($2.3 million)
  • Constructing a water filtration system ($2 million) 

Installing a water filtration system will cost more than $2 million, but the proposal says that “without an adequate filtration system, JSU will continue to suffer from environmental and health alerts, boil water notices, and unexpected budgetary emergencies which impacts the ability to provide adequate maintenance.” 

These are the stakes of JSU not receiving ARPA funding for these projects, as the university sees it: “If this project does not proceed, JSU will continue to suffer from unexpected water and sewer line failures with no ability to develop data-driven solutions to effectively establish short-term and long-term solutions.” 

The proposal also says if the university is not able to procure funding for an isolated potable water system, the downside would be “required evacuation of over two thousand students as well as faculty and staff” as well as “loss of our fire protection systems.” 

The four sections of the proposal paint a high-level look at the state of the water system at JSU. 

The university pays for city water to support heating, cooling, potable and non-potable water on the historic campus, which is located in one of the first communities to be developed in Jackson, a neighborhood just a few minutes west of downtown. 

The water lines that feed JSU are among the oldest in the city – more than 100 years old. 

“Another aspect of these aged water lines would be the materials from which they were made,” the proposal says. “Some of these materials, which will include cast iron and lead, have become very brittle, fragile, and toxic.” 

During heavy storms, water erodes the grounds and intrudes into buildings due to the inadequate capacity of the campus’s storm water lines. 

“An improvement in this area will save us repair dollars for our structures,” the report says. 

The goal of the water and sewer line assessment would be to create “a comprehensive capital plan” so that JSU can understand what aspects of the water infrastructure on campus needs to be repaired, replaced or upgraded. The proposal says this will help the university address “any potential concerns” related to deteriorating water lines, unreliable control system, or lead in the campus’s drinking water. 

The instability of the water lines on campus also contributes to water and sewer back-ups that cause odors and unsafe conditions, the proposal says, noting that a sewer line on Lynch Street recently collapsed. 

During the legislative session, IHL requested more than $17 million in funds for water-related projects on JSU’s campus, but the Legislature did not fulfill those requests. Many of those initial requests are similar to the ones JSU included in its proposal to DFA, according to a funding request IHL provided to Mississippi Today, but others were more immediate – and expensive, like $2 million for the installation of water meters. 

A bill proposed last session by Rep. Angela Cockerham, an independent from Magnolia, sought $8 million for JSU for costs associated with building a separate water system. It died in committee.

The city’s water issues have periods of low to no water pressure at JSU as far back as 2010. 

At the town hall on Tuesday, Hudson asked students to be patient as the university seeks state and federal funding for a new water system. 

“These things take time in order to happen,” he said. 

One student asked if the plan to build a new water system would affect tuition. Hudson replied that it’s “far too early to tell” the financial impact of a new water system or of the water crisis. 

Hudson added that while the university’s current water system “does bring costs,” because JSU pays the city for water, students won’t bear the cost of a new water system in the form of higher tuition.  

“There are resources that can help us undertake such a massive project,” he said. “We’re not looking to pass these costs onto our students.” 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Lawyers argued that ARPA funds should not be given to private schools

57 views – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-08-23 16:12:16

A Chancery Judge is set to rule in Parents for v. Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration.

Why is Parents for Public Schools suing Mississippi?

The claims the Mississippi Legislature violated state law by appropriating $10 million to private schools.

After a Tuesday hearing, Hinds County Chancery Judge Crystal Wise Martin asked attorneys from both sides for proposed findings of facts to be turned in by Monday so that she may rule on a case in which federal funds could be given to private schools in Mississippi.


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JSU delays student move-in due to low water pressure


JSU delays student move-in due to low Jackson water pressure

Jackson State University announced it has postponed move-in dates this fall as the capital city’s “unprecedented water pressure issues” are affecting water flow on the upper floors of student housing. 

JSU’s campus is just west of downtown Jackson, an area contending with low pressure after the city pulled some water pumps offline earlier this week due to mechanical issues at the OB Curtis Water Treatment Plant. This comes as the city remains under a boil water notice issued two weeks ago by the due to higher than average levels of turbidity, or cloudiness, in the water. 

The university is now planning for the 750 new students who were scheduled to move-in this Saturday to come to campus starting Thursday, Aug. 18. The move-in date for returning students is now Saturday, Aug. 20. But those dates are still subject to the city restoring water pressure, according to a press release posted to the university’s social media. 

Classes are still scheduled to start on Monday, Aug. 22. 

“While we know this is a huge inconvenience, the postponement is the right thing to do to prevent students from arriving on campus while we’re experiencing these water issues,” university officials said in the press release. 

Last week, city officials said that while they did not have a “definitive timeline” for lifting the boil water notice, they hoped service would be back to fully functioning starting today for well-system customers starting today and as early as Saturday for surface system customers. 

The water issues are also affecting Jackson , the superintendent told WAPT, affecting the ability of some larger buildings that are more than 50 years old to flush toilets. 

“We’re at a place now where many of our buildings are failing us,” Errick Greene said. “HVAC systems, plumbing systems, electricity, we’re constantly patching, fixing, and running behind so many issues.”

JSU, a historically Black college, relies on the city water system but for years has sought for years for support from the Legislature to construct its own. Though lawmakers this session appropriated funds for capital projects at Mississippi’s eight public universities, most of the bills seeking infrastructure improvements for JSU – such as new dormitories – died in committee. 

Of the 17 bills introduced last session for capital improvements at JSU, only one – a bill authorizing the university to sell land to a private entity to develop student housing – was signed into law. Capital projects for the universities are sometimes funded through appropriation and bond bills.

One of the unsuccessful bills, proposed earlier this year by Rep. Angela Cockerham, an independent from Magnolia, sought $8 million for JSU for costs associated with building a separate water system. 

Cockerham said she has thought for years that JSU, her alma mater, needs its own water supply. This issue became particularly urgent, she said, after seeing how last year’s ice storm affected the campus. Students, faculty and staff didn’t have clean water, according to HBCU Advocate, and the university had to install portable showers and restrooms near the dorms. 

The impact on students of the university pushing its move-in date underscores the need for her bill, Cockerham said. 

“Some students live here locally, but a lot of students are coming from out of state,” she said. “This severely affects the parents, especially if they bought plane tickets, if they rented cars, if they’ve got U-hauls.”  

The university’s press release states that the financial aid and business offices will be available to assist students with completing registration during the new move-in dates. 

Four Mississippi universities have their own water systems, according to the Institutions of Higher Learning, including Alcorn State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Mississippi State University, and the University of Mississippi. 

The uses its own water source for about 90% of campus with the remaining coming from the city, IHL’s spokesperson, Caron Blanton, wrote in an email earlier this year. 

IHL has received $25 million in ARPA funds for capital projects at all eight public universities, but it’s likely not enough to cover the full scope of the need at every university, including JSU. Mississippi Today asked what portion of the $25 million was allocated to JSU, but IHL did not respond by press time. 

For JSU alone, IHL had initially requested $17.8 million in ARPA funds for the university to implement a range of upgrades to its plumbing and sewage systems, such as installing water meters and filtration systems on the service lines for 52 university buildings and replacing a sewer line on Lynch Street. 

The request would have also funded a plan “to implement an alternate water supply system to serve the JSU campus.” 

JSU has also been seeking to build new dorms to alleviate a waitlist of more than 600 students seeking on-campus housing. At a town hall last month, President Thomas Hudson addressed the university’s housing issues, which he said stemmed from “years of underfunding,” according to a press release. 

Hudson said the university is taking a “two-prong approach to this issue” that includes repairing the current on-campus housing and looking to build new dorms in the coming year. 

“It’s long overdue for JSU, and it’s long overdue for a new residence hall that meets our growing demand and is more in line with what our students need and want,” Hudson said. “We ask that everyone be patient with us; work with us. We’re going to try and place as many students as we can this year.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Water, sewage: $1B in upgrades to be spent


Cities and counties will soon spend $1 billion in water, sewer upgrades as inflation rises

After years of struggling with home wells running dry, Amanda Barkley and her neighbors near the Falkner community on the Benton-Tippah county line hope soon to have ample, clean water as Mississippi prepares to spend over $1 billion in federal money on water and sewerage statewide.

“We got a letter from (Public Service Commissioner) Brandon Presley,” Barkley said. “Three Forks Water Association is applying for the grant to hook us up … It sounds like the money is there, the water association is going to do it. We’re just very hopeful.”

The Mississippi Legislature earlier this year decided to spend up to $750 million of the $1.8 billion it received in federal pandemic relief money on two of the state’s major problems: In many urban areas, most notably Jackson, antiquated water and sewerage systems are collapsing. In rural areas, such as where Barkley lives, 13% of the state’s population does not have public water service.

The issue is a hindrance to the state’s growth and economic development, and it’s a major health concern. Drinking water contamination in rural wells and from crumbling urban systems is widespread, as is pollution from leaking sewer mains and rural septic tanks.

FOLLOW THE MONEY: Full coverage of how Mississippi is spending billions in federal pandemic relief tax dollars

The Legislature earmarked $450 million to provide matching grants to cities and counties for water, sewerage and stormwater drainage projects. Cities and counties received about $900 million directly from ARPA that they can use for the matching grant program. For approved projects, the state will match counties’ and most cities’ ARPA money 1-to-1, but will provide a 2-to-1 match on projects for towns that received less than $1 million from ARPA.

The Legislature also set aside $300 million for grants of up to $2.5 million each for rural water associations, from which most Mississippians receive their water. This is for projects such as the one Barkley and her neighbors hope will provide them water.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and Mississippi Department of Health are running the city/county and rural water grant programs, respectively. They have in recent weeks promulgated rules and scoring and are taking applications, and plan to start awarding grants by the fall.

‘We invented the wheel on this’

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann led the push in the Legislature and lobbied local governments to focus ARPA spending on infrastructure projects that would be “transformational and generational.” Last year, he traveled the state urging local governments to hold onto the ARPA funds they had already received until the Legislature could work out a plan to match their money.

“I’ve been very pleased with the cities that have held their money for the matching grants,” Hosemann said. “… It appears most of them did, and I’m hopeful they saved at least between $300 million and $400 million that can be fully matched to give us a big infusion on water and sewer statewide.”

The money won’t be a cure-all for Mississippi’s water and sewer infrastructure. Needs in many areas, such as Jackson, are far beyond the money available. But it’s well beyond what Mississippi’s cities, counties and hamlets could do on their own, and is being called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by many leaders.

“We just appreciate this lift, this push,” said Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons, who said his city hopes to have the state program match his city’s $6.2 million in direct ARPA funds to cover $12.4 million in water and wastewater system improvements. “… Our children and their children will see the positive benefits of infrastructure work.”

READ MORE: Should safe drinking water be a priority for Mississippi’s federal stimulus spending?

Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams, president of the Mississippi Municipal League, said cities are reading the new regulations and signing up for webinars with MDEQ and that MML and the secretary of state’s office are helping cities navigate the grant programs. She said Greenwood has $3.2 million it hopes to get matched to “re-line a lot of sewer pipes that are 70 to 75 years old,” and other work.

“We’re sitting on go — or at least on one or two of ‘one-two-three, ready go,'” McAdams said. “… We’re really appreciative of the additional funding from the state level. I really totally agreed with Lt. Gov. Hosemann. A lot of people could have taken that money and done other things that, while needed, might not be the best decision. When you narrow it down to water and wastewater, you’re doing things that are going to last many years.”

Robert Lee, interim city engineer for Jackson, said the city is finalizing plans for projects. The city plans to use $25 million of the $42 million it received from ARPA for the state water and sewer match program — the largest amount of any city in the state.

Lee said the city plans to focus these projects on sewerage, not because the city doesn’t have plenty of drinking water system needs, but because many of the water projects have much larger price tags and will have to be staged over years.

“On the sewer side, we have a (court) consent decree (to fix problems),” Lee said. “Right now, I’m looking at sewer overflowing and spilling as we talk.”

Derrick Surrette, director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, said most counties in Mississippi do not have water or sewerage operations, but some plan to apply for matching grants from the state for stormwater projects. He said these are mostly larger, more developed counties with major drainage issues. He said many other counties will be using their ARPA funds on road and bridge work and other issues, without getting a match from the state.

Surrette said some counties are looking to partner with rural water associations, and use county ARPA funds to help them leverage a state match and upgrade water systems and service. But he said there is still some confusion and concern about counties giving money to non-county entities.

“The rural water issue gets more complicated,” Surrette said. “Once the money goes off the county books to a private association, that’s where all sorts of red flags go up for counties. It’s not that we don’t want to do it, it’s just being very cautious. You can’t just give that money to a rural water association and hope they get it done.

“But this was a first for everybody, and the legislators had to invent the wheel on this, and we appreciate the work they’ve done,” Surrette said. “We invented the wheel on this, so there will probably need to be some more tweaking.”

Kirby Mayfield, CEO of the Mississippi Rural Water Association, said he believes many water associations will take advantage of the state’s $300 million grant program, although the money is not enough to cover all the needs of more than 900 associations. Most of the systems were created in the 1960s and ’70s when affordable USDA grants and loans were available and they have not been able to afford needed upgrades and replacements.

“I think we will never see a chance like this again,” Mayfield said. “This is really huge for our water industry.”

Mayfield said the grants will allow for repairs and expansion, and probably help some very small associations merge and consolidate.

Deadlines loom, inflation eats into projects

Mississippi is behind most other states in standing up programs and spending federal ARPA money. States have a deadline of December 2024 to allocate the money, and December 2026 to finish spending it. While those deadlines appear generous, Mississippi will see a flood of projects statewide, with a finite number of water, sewerage and drainage contractors available. Some local governments may be sweating deadlines on the larger projects.

Also, as the clock has ticked, inflation has risen to record levels and construction is particularly hit hard.

“We’re looking at construction costs up 40% from our original estimates from before the (legislative) session,” said George Flaggs, mayor of Vicksburg. “Asphalt has gone up 52% since the pandemic, and anything with iron in it has gone up more than that. We’ve had to re-bid two city projects. Plus, an issue now is the workforce — all the contractors are in need of workers. I think we can still make all the deadlines, but may have to cut back on some of the projects we do.”

READ MORE: Mississippi procrastinates as other states plan for, spend billions in pandemic stimulus

McAdams and Simmons said they’ve seen the same skyrocketing inflation in construction costs.

“Pre-COVID, for 8-inch concrete pavement, it cost $72.22 per square yard,” Simmons said. “In May, it was running $119 for that same square yard.”

McAdams said Greenwood got estimates on projects when ARPA payments first went out, but those estimates are no longer near reality. She said with local governments across Mississippi — and neighboring states, too — doing projects at the same time, contractors and labor are liable to be in short supply.

Hosemann said inflation is one reason the Legislature held back on spending about $400 million in state ARPA funds early this year.

“First of all, we believed there was going to be high inflation and possibly a recession,” Hosemann said. “Second of all, we weren’t sure Mississippi would have the contractors to consume over $2 billion all at once — and then you also feed inflation itself when you do that … We’re looking longer out how these funds can help infuse the , not just in one year.”

Lee said that for water, sewerage and drainage projects there are also huge design, engineering and other professional service costs that come into play. He noted the state’s matching grant program caps what it will cover for those costs at 4% of a project’s total cost. But for water and sewerage and drainage projects, those costs can easily run 8% to 10%.

While the state matching program will cover only 4%, the federal ARPA regulations for money that went directly to local governments doesn’t have that cap. Lee said this could likely mean that for some projects, local governments will have to hold back some of their federal dollars that otherwise could have gotten a 1-to-1 or 2-to-1 match from the state.

“That just means we may not be able to get the full match,” Lee said. “Is it a deal killer? No, of course we can work with that, but I would think for smaller towns that could be an issue.”

Surrette said some county leaders have raised this issue, noting that for large projects, just hiring a consultant to make sure ARPA regs are being followed could run more than 4%. But he said in many cases, local governments have already done engineering and other work in drafting projects. And, he said, a 1-to-1 match on the projects makes such costs a small price to pay.

“A 100-percent grant is almost unheard of,” Surrette said. “We’re more used to 80-percent grants … There’s times to argue and fuss and complain, but maybe not when you’re doubling your money. Plus, (federal) Treasury gave them a lot of flexibility (on direct dollars). I think it’s going to be doable.”

First, ‘catch a rabbit

Surrette said perhaps a larger concern — especially for smaller local governments that don’t have large clerical staffs or consultants they regularly use — is making sure all T’s are crossed and I’s dotted on federal spending and project regulations.

Not doing so with federal money, Surrette said, could result in “clawbacks” — the feds wanting the money repaid.

Surrette said that for now, state lawmakers left that work up to the local governments, but he hopes the state might reconsider and perhaps hire staff or consultants that could help local governments. He said some cities and counties might be willing to pay a fee for such help.

Hosemann said such issues could still be addressed by lawmakers, and tweaks made if needed.

“Certainly if that’s an issue they want to bring to the Legislature, we will look at it,” Hosemann said. “Our goal for this money is for it to go into the ground, have an economic impact. We want it done correctly, but we wanted to get moving. The first thing you have to have for a recipe for rabbit stew is to catch a rabbit.”

Simmons said Greenville, like many other cities, has struggled to maintain and upgrade infrastructure and will continue after the ARPA money is used. But he said the program “is a good start for cities and towns to become more competitive,” and he thanked Congress and state’s legislative leaders. All Republican members of Congress voted against the $1.9 trillion ARPA measure.

“We want to thank Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn for keeping their word to towns and cities,” Simmons said. “… When you strengthen Mississippi’s cities and communities, you strengthen Mississippi. That’s how we grow and thrive as a state.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

After 121 summers, Parchman prison is getting A/C


After 121 scalding Mississippi summers, Parchman prison is getting air conditioning

Editor’s note: This story contains references to suicide. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 988. Local resources include the Mississippi Department of Mental Health DMH Helpline at 1-877-210-8513.

After 121 summers in the Mississippi Delta, the state’s oldest and largest prison is getting air conditioning.

Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain said 48 air conditioning units have been installed at the at Parchman buildings so far, covering 40% of the prison population. 

The process is expected to be complete in the spring, and then air conditioning will be installed at the state’s other prisons, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and Southern Mississippi Correctional Institution.

“It feels good to get it done,” Cain said in an interview with Mississippi Today. “It’s just the time to do it.” 

Cell blocks at Parchman, located in the scalding fields of the Delta, are made out of concrete. A U.S. Department of Justice report about poor conditions at Parchman said temperatures inside the prison sometimes reach up to 145 degrees. With air conditioning, Cain said, the goal is to get temperatures to a comfortable 78 degrees.

Multiple courts have ruled incarceration in extremely hot or cold temperatures is unconstitutional, said Wanda Bertram, a spokesperson for the Prison Policy Initiative. But despite court rulings, there isn’t a national standard for managing extreme temperatures in jails, she said. 

A 2019 report by the Prison Policy Initiative found 13 southern states including Mississippi lacked central air in their prisons. Years later, most southern states still lack air conditioning in their prisons, Bertram said.  

It’s often older prisons like Parchman that are least likely to have air conditioning throughout their facilities, she said, and that is often because infrastructure needs have piled up. However, there are some newer facilities that don’t have air conditioning. 

“States are choosing not to provide this, often or not,” Bertram said. 

Eastern Mississippi Correctional Facility, which is privately operated for MDOC, has a central air conditioning system, including in all housing units, contractor Management and Training Corporation said in a statement. 

Cain said the Parchman air conditioning project is $650,000 from MDOC’s budget. He also expects to use funds. 

The state prisons commissioner also sees adding air conditioning as a way to address issues raised by the federal government and attract people to work in the state’s prison system. 

In an April 2022 investigation report, the Department of Justice listed high temperatures as one of many issues that exist at Parchman. The report talks about extreme heat in restrictive housing units, which is also known as solitary confinement. 

READ MORE: DOJ says Parchman conditions violate the Constitution

One of the report’s examples about conditions in restrictive housing is about a man who had been on row for about 20 years and had no indication of mental health issues. In February 2021, he began expressing suicidal ideation and the week before his death by suicide, he had been seeking relief from excessive heat in his unit. 

An investigation report found temperatures that week reached 124.5 degrees, and temperature logs from MDOC for the same timeframe showed temperatures between 95 and 145.1 degrees, according to the report. 

“Incarcerated persons in prolonged restrictive housing in egregious conditions at Parchman can and do suffer mental harm, and this harm is evidenced by self-injurious behavior,” the DOJ report states.

People with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, mental illness, poor blood circulation and obesity are more vulnerable to extreme heat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Certain medications and old age can also affect a person’s ability to regulate their body temperature. 

Heat-related illnesses are preventable, according to the CDC, but if untreated they can result in potentially fatal conditions such as heat stroke and dehydration.

One of the remedies the Justice Department recommended to fix constitutional violations is to ensure sanitary and safe conditions, including proper temperature regulation, in restrictive housing. Air conditioning isn’t specified as a specific remedy. 

In addition to addressing extreme temperatures at Parchman, Cain said installing air conditioning can help recruit people to work in the prison system and promote a safer environment.

Adequate staffing is another recommendation by the Justice Department to allow for better supervision, safety and protection from harm. 

The Department of Corrections is looking to hire 600 people, Cain said. 

Correctional officers and case managers received a 10% pay increase earlier this month, with a starting pay of about $17 an hour or $35,500 with benefits. When he first became commissioner in 2020, starting pay was $14 an hour.  

“We’re going to have to work to get there,” Cain said about completing air conditioning installation, staff recruitment and other ongoing projects through the corrections department.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Foster care system failing to prevent abuse and neglect


Gov. Reeves says foster care agency is meeting standards. Damning reports suggest otherwise.

Mississippi’s foster care agency is failing to prevent abuse and neglect of children in state custody despite its commitments to do so as part of a long-running federal , documents obtained by Mississippi Today show. 

And Gov. Tate Reeves, who oversees the agency and has recently vowed to make the state safer for children, has downplayed the agency’s problems and failed to propose concrete solutions.

A Mississippi toddler named Olivia Y. weighed only 22 pounds when she entered state custody in 2003. Though she was obviously malnourished, she was not given a medical exam. Over the next three months, she was shuffled across five different foster homes.

The lawsuit that bears her name was filed in 2004, when she was 3-and-a-half years old, on behalf of the thousands of children in the state foster care system. The state first agreed to a settlement requiring it to make systemic reforms in 2008, but has never fully complied with the terms of that and later settlement agreements.

An independent monitor evaluated the department’s progress toward meeting its commitments in reports released in 2020 and 2021 that were never publicized. The reports documented major systemic failures and gut-wrenching stories. About 2% of all children in department custody were subjected to abuse or neglect by their caregivers in 2020, the monitor found – and advocates believe many more incidents of abuse are never reported. 

The department acknowledged in June 2021 that it was not capable of achieving its targets and instead agreed to a “rebuilding period.” It is working toward reaching a smaller number of less stringent standards in areas such as worker caseloads and child safety by early 2023. The next monitoring report will not be filed until April 2023. 

Yet Reeves has already determined the department is up to par. 

In a statement to Mississippi Today, Reeves spokeswoman Shelby Wilcher said the most recent monitoring report, which evaluated the department’s work in calendar year 2020, does not reflect its “current efficacy.”

believes current child protection services in Mississippi meet and exceed constitutional standards,” she said. 

It’s not clear what he meant by “constitutional standards.”

Marcia Robinson Lowry, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney in the federal case against the state, has met regularly with CPS Commissioner Andrea Sanders, whom Reeves appointed, during the last two years. Lowry disagrees with Reeves’ claim.

“That’s appalling,” Lowry said of Reeves’ statement. “I don’t know what he means by that. I hope that we are all paying attention to the wellbeing of Mississippi’s children, both the advocates and the governor, because the reports that the monitor has issued show that there are big, big problems in the Mississippi system. And they need to be addressed. And they haven’t been. So I’m sort of appalled at that.”

Lowry said she believes Sanders has been making strong efforts to achieve the department’s rebuilding period targets, but it’s still unclear whether they will succeed. Lowry said the details of her meetings with Sanders are confidential.

The department told Mississippi Today it cannot comment on the ongoing litigation. 

Wilcher did not respond to follow-up questions about how Reeves reached his conclusion and whether he has seen more recent data showing rates of abuse and neglect. 

Among the problems documented in the most recent reports:

  • High rates of abuse and neglect of children in department custody. In 2019, 87 kids were abused or neglected. In 2020, the figure was 117, nearly six times the agreed-upon rate. During the rebuilding period, the independent monitor is conducting an analysis to determine why these cases occurred.
  • Four teenagers in department custody ran away from the group home where they were living and became involved in sex trafficking in 2019. When the department investigated, one of the girls who had run away reported that they “were not really being supervised.” But the CPS investigator never interviewed facility staff to find out whether that might have played a role in their escape – even though they also knew that incidents of kids running away from the facility had triggered at least 28 previous investigations. By the time the investigation wrapped up, one of the four teenagers was still missing.
  • The monitor found: “A foster child, age ten, and adoptive child, age 11, were left home to care for a foster child, age one. He was not changed regularly and had diaper rash. The older children changed his diaper, gave him a bath, and cleaned him with baby wipes because he was always filthy. MDCPS substantiated physical neglect of the one-year-old, but neglect was unsubstantiated for the other two children, who were caregivers for him. In interviews, the children also alleged that the foster mother called them names, cursed at them, ‘whooped’’ them with belts, shoes, and other objects, and smoked around them in the home and the car. As a result of this investigation, the 10-year-old was removed from the home. However, the one-year-old remained in the home for two months, and the 11- year-old adopted child and an older adopted youth still remain in the home.”
  • The department placed a 17-year-old girl in a motel for a month and a half and hired a rotating group of sitters from a sitter service to watch her. It conducted two maltreatment investigations. In the first, “it was alleged that the child had taken a beer from a man staying at the motel, that she had ‘found’ $400 and split it with one of the sitters, and that she was sending inappropriate pictures of herself through social media.” The department removed her phone and did not substantiate allegations of physical neglect.  It then removed her from the motel and placed her in a group home. The child then reported that while she was in the motel, one of the sitters regularly took her to their home, where “she had sexual relations with the sitter’s 47-year-old uncle ‘three to four times weekly’ and that it was consensual.” The department found that physical neglect and sexual abuse had occurred, and the investigator noted that the report was forwarded to local but that they could not bring charges because Mississippi’s age of consent is 16. “However, the investigating worker also noted that if an exchange occurred for sex, the age of consent is then 18 years of age. It appears the Department did not follow up on this.”
  • “A 19-year-old was placed and re-placed in a hotel repeatedly, including three times after being hospitalized for ingesting harmful objects such as a razor, broken glass, and a large quantity of pills, and once after running away from the hotel and being returned there by the police.”
  • Higher-than-allowable worker caseloads. The department is supposed to ensure 90% of all caseworkers have a caseload that meets standards allowing them to provide adequate care and oversight. In 2019 and 2020, this figure ranged from 48% to 68%. 
  • The department failed to consistently provide older teens with assistance planning for independent life after leaving state custody, including help lining up housing, even when they specifically asked for it. In the case of one Mississippian who left state custody on their 21st birthday, “Case narrative notes documented the youth’s desire for an apartment for several months prior to emancipation. There was no documentation that the youth ever received assistance from MDCPS in finding housing.”

At a press event on Wednesday where the Governor and First Lady announced the theme of this year’s “Christmas at the Mansion,” Mississippi Today attempted to ask Reeves in person about how he reached his conclusion that MDCPS is meeting and exceeding “constitutional standards” to protect the kids in its care. 

“I’m not going to take any questions on that today,” he said. “I’m going to be out and about tomorrow. We’ll talk politics at the appropriate time.”

(This year’s theme is “Mississippi Hometown Christmas.”)

In 2020, the department met only 32 of 123 targets. It failed to meet 75, and the monitor couldn’t evaluate the remaining areas because of data issues.

In 2019, the department met 39 of 126 commitments. It did not meet 54 areas and failed to provide data or complete data for 32. 

In the wake of the overturning of and the end of nearly all in Mississippi, Reeves has touted a “new pro-life agenda.” But his proposals for the state’s foster care system so far have largely amounted to a pledge to “strengthen adoption services.” 

Earlier this year, the Legislature approved nearly $60 million in federal funding from the for the department, which will in part be used to hire about 200 new employees to work through a “backlog” of cases. 

A spokesperson for the department did not answer questions regarding plans for the ARPA spending, saying the person best equipped to answer them is out of the office this week. Lawmakers did not respond to requests for comment or did not recall the specifics of the department’s plans for its ARPA funding.

When Mississippi Today asked Reeves’ office for information about his work on foster care issues, they pointed to a press conference he held in April where they said the department was discussed “in detail.” During the press conference, he announced an expanded “public-private partnership” with a nonprofit program called Wendy’s Wonderful Kids to help find adoptive homes for special needs children and older kids in foster care. With a $1.7 million donation from the Dave Thomas Foundation, the program will expand from one recruiter in the state to 10.

At the same event, Reeves signed into law a bill that will provide college scholarships for young people who spent at least part of their teenage years in foster care. Thirty-eight states already had such programs. 

But the problems documented in the monitoring reports go far beyond barriers to adoption and college access. 

According to the reports, adoption is the long-term goal for 39% of kids in state custody; only 22% who left department care in 2020 were adopted. 

For half of kids in state custody, the long-term goal is reunification with their families. Caseworkers are supposed to meet monthly with the families of kids in that category to discuss progress and the child’s well-being. But the monitors found this happened less than half of the time. 

When CPS Commissioner Andrea Sanders presented her request for ARPA funding to legislators in December, she noted that a very small amount of resources can sometimes allow a child to avoid state custody altogether.

“We do want to start with where the child is and look for ways that we might prevent removal of that child,” she said. “What would it take to get a child to stay in their home safely? Sometimes it’s just a bed. Sometimes it’s a safe place to sleep. Sometimes it’s a mitigation of a heating system in the house that’s unsafe for the child to be around.”

The number of children in state custody has fallen 33% since 2017, from 5,872 to 3,888 in June 2022, according to data the department shared with Mississippi Today. The monitoring report showed that at the end of 2020, there were 3,738 kids in department custody.

The reports also document the department’s progress in several areas, including:

  • The department licensed 357 new non-relative foster homes in 2020, exceeding the target of 351. “This is a significant accomplishment made during the pandemic, which had a significant impact on child welfare operations throughout the nation,” the report noted.
  • The department ran a system of post-adoption services statewide, providing adoptive families access to counseling, mental health treatment and crisis intervention, peer support and respite services. 
  • At least 95% of children in custody were placed in the least restrictive setting (i.e., the one most similar to a family environment) that met their needs. 
  • The department’s caseworkers met educational qualifications and received adequate training. 

Mississippi advocates for children have witnessed other problems with the system beyond those discussed in the reports. 

Polly Tribble leads Disability Rights Mississippi, the nonprofit advocacy organization with statutory authority to advocate for Mississippians with disabilities. In the last year, she said, her organization has contacted MDCPS roughly 10 times because a foster child – generally with a psychiatric diagnosis of some kind – has been languishing in an inpatient residential facility long past when they should be released. 

“A few of them have been appropriately placed in a foster home or a therapeutic foster home, but more times than not they’re just transferred to another facility, or left,” she said. “… And of course the facility’s not going to turn them away.”

Tribble said kids can spend years in such facilities. 

Joy Hogge, executive director of the nonprofit Families as Allies, which advocates for children with behavioral health challenges and their caregivers, said one of the biggest problems facing the foster care system in Mississippi is a deeply ingrained sense that people who lose custody of their kids don’t really deserve to be parents. 

“There’s a lot of prejudice against the families, and assumptions made about them,” she said. 

Hogge said that when reunification is possible – as it is in at least half of cases, according to the monitoring reports – it’s important to support children in seeing their families and siblings, and in helping biological families get what they need. 

“There’s a philosophy that these are bad parents, we need to take these children from them,” she said. “It’s the same thing you’re seeing now: ‘We need to make adoption really easy.’”

Read the monitoring report completed in 2021:

Read the monitoring report completed in 2020:

Read the June 2021 order describing the rebuilding period:

Anna Wolfe contributed reporting.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson water: Issues with treatment and hot weather


Boil and conserve: Treatment issues and hot weather put strain on Jackson water

A combination of an ammonia leak and improper water treatment has forced all of Jackson’s water customers to boil their water for nearly two weeks straight now. Those boil water notices came only days after the city asked residents to conserve what water they were using because of hotter than average weather. 

City of Jackson officials on Thursday did not have a definitive timeline for lifting the boil water notice, but said the service may be back to fully functioning as early as Friday for well system customers, and as early as Saturday for surface system customers. 

Officials issued the first citywide notice on June 24, after an ammonia leak as well as filtration issues at the O.B. Curtis water treatment plant forced operators to reduce pressure. While the pressure has been restored, Jackson is still working to answer a second citywide notice that the state health department issued on June 30. 

The issued the notice because “turbidity levels,” or cloudiness, in the water were too high. Turbidity itself isn’t harmful, but high levels mean a higher likelihood of disease-causing organisms, which can lead to symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

City officials explained on Thursday that operators use two chemicals to maintain the pH in the water: soda ash and a lime slurry. At the time, the soda ash operation “was not working,” and operators used too much lime in the treatment, causing the high turbidity.

Jackson residents have now received over 50 boil water notices since the start of 2022, according to the city’s press releases. Only the two recent notices covered the whole city. 

On June 21, the city issued a water conservation advisory because of expected hotter than average temperatures this summer, asking residents to take showers instead of baths, only run full loads in dishwashers and laundry machines, among other measures.

The city requires a number of fixes to bring the system as a whole up to par: hiring more operators for its two treatment plants, upgrading equipment at the plants, and replacing aging distribution lines.  

In May, Jackson announced the construction of a new 48-inch distribution line, using about $8 million of the city’s funds, was underway. The new line is aimed at improving water pressure in the South Jackson, Belhaven, Belhaven Heights, Eastern downtown and I-55 south corridor neighborhoods.

In total, the city has allocated $25 million of the ARPA funds it received for water and sewer improvements. But through county and matching funds the city could receive an additional $33 million, the Clarion Ledger reported in April. 

The city said it plans to distribute bottles of water to residents every day until the boil water notice is lifted. 

The notices advise that residents bring their water to a boil for a minute before drinking as well as: cooking or baking, making ice cubes, taking medication, brushing teeth, washing food, mixing baby formula or food, mixing juices or drinks, feeding pets, washing dishes and all other consumption.

This story was produced by Mississippi Today in partnership with the Community Foundation for Mississippi’s local collaborative, which is independently funded in part by Microsoft Corp. The collaborative includes Mississippi Today, the Clarion Ledger, the Jackson AdvocateJackson State UniversityMississippi Public Broadcasting and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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