watersystem

‘There’s a hunger to see if we can pull this off’: Henifin talks next steps for funding Jackson water

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‘There’s a hunger to see if we can pull this off’: Henifin talks next steps for funding Jackson water

Jackson water head Ted Henifin said Friday he would recommend to extend federal oversight of the city’s water system to five years, allowing his team to make the necessary infrastructure improvements using recently allocated federal funds.

During a press conference where he discussed his financial proposal for future funding of the city’s water system, Henifin also said a bill now before the may put a roadblock in the way of his planned changes to the water billing system.

Henifin emphasized that Jackson’s infrastructure is still in a place where the system could “fail tomorrow,” but that the roughly $800 million coming to Jackson will be enough to address the city’s issues as long as it can have a stable revenue plan moving forward.

“I’d say, yes, the (roughly) $1 billion is enough, once we’re on a good foundation moving forward,” he said.

His press conference Friday came hours after submitting a financial proposal to a federal judge. Henifin will spend the next few months receiving feedback from the public, with the goal of having a new revenue model to fund the water system in place on Oct. 1.

It also comes at the end of week where bills that would affect his billing plans and wrest control of the water system were making their way through the Legislature.

New bill could thwart changes to billing model

Henifin acknowledged Friday that he’s proposing a billing structure for residents based on customer’s property value rather than how much water a customer consumes, an idea aimed at restoring trust in the billing system and keeping rates affordable.

He explained that the median single family household would pay about $50 a month for water and sewer, similar to what that home would be paying now. In another example he gave, someone with a $100,000-valued property would be paying about $100 a month.

Bills would be capped at $150 a month for residential properties, he said, and at $600 for commercial properties.

As far as he knew, the only other utility in the country with such a model is Milwaukee with its wastewater system. He added that cities across the nation are looking to revamp their billing structures because traditional systems are making services unaffordable for poorer residents. Those places, he explained, will be paying close attention to how such a change would work in Jackson.

“There’s going to be a big hunger to see if we can pull this off and find a better way to do it,” Henifin said.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba (left) and water system’s third-party administrator Ted Henifin, answer questions regarding the current state of the city’s water system during a town hall meeting held at Forest Hill High School, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

While some water policy experts believe bills should have some connection to residents’ consumption to not strain a city’s infrastructure, Henifin said the city is losing so much water as it is — 25 million to 30 million gallons a day, or at least half of the 50 million gallons a day the city can produce — that consumption isn’t a concern.

“There’s no amount of conservation that our residents could do to make up for the amount we’re losing,” he said. “If (Jacksonians) decide to their sprinklers all day and take half hour showers every morning, it’s not going to make a difference to the mountain of water we’re losing.”

Per the recommendation of the state Health Department, Jackson has placed residents under a water conservation advisory since last summer.

The bigger concern, Henifin explained, is making sure the city has reliable revenue through its billing system, which has been plagued for years by faulty metering. That money, along with the recent federal funds, will go to upgrade the fragile water lines that are causing the city to lose so much of its water.

He added that a new hydraulic model for the city, which is near completion, will help show where the city’s leaks are. Because the city doesn’t have a model, “we’ve got little knowledge of what happens” when water leaves the two treatment plants, he said.

But changes to the city’s billing could be put on hold if state lawmakers have their way. On Thursday, the Senate approved a bill that would require cities to charge customers for water based on their consumption.

While the U.S. Department of Justice order appointing Henifin gave him broad authority, he clarified that it doesn’t allow him to violate state law, and that if the he bill is signed by Gov. Tate Reeves he may have to reconsider the plan.

When asked what it would mean for ratepayers if the city sticks to a consumption-based system, he said rates would have to go up 50% to generate the necessary revenue for the city. He added that some homes would see an increase in their bills with his proposal as well.

Motorists line up along Northside Drive for a water give-a-way at the Food Depot grocery store in Jackson on Feb. 19, 2021.

Bill that would shrink Jackson’s control

Henifin was also asked about another bill, which passed through a Senate committee on Tuesday, that would create a nine-member board to oversee Jackson’s water system when the DOJ lifts its current order; five of the appointments would be made by the governor and lieutenant governor, and just four would come from the Jackson’s mayor, effectively removing control from the city’s leadership.

The bill would also require the board to consult with the mayors of Byram and Ridgeland, despite the latter having sparse property that’s served by Jackson water.

Henifin in an interview with WLBT on Wednesday called the plan a “pure grab for money”.

Part of the DOJ order gives Henifin the ability to recommend how Jackson manages the water system moving forward. While not directly addressing the Senate proposal, Henifin said he’ll recommend that the DOJ extend its oversight of the water system to five years, giving his team enough time to spend the new federal funding.

He added that one option that he thinks “may have some merit” is creating a board-led nonprofit that could procure contracts more quickly than what is allowed for a municipal government.

Climbing out of debt

Henifin began Friday’s briefing discussing Jackson’s debt. With a poor credit rating and no cash on hand, the city would struggle to borrow any money for its water system as things stand today, he explained. Right now, the city is having to pay back $23 million a year towards its debt.

The goal, he said, is to get Jackson to a point where it can borrow money if it needs to. To do that, Henifin said he’s planning to spend $290 million of the $450 million provided by Congress for capital improvements to eliminate the city’s debt.

He said that doing so will still leave enough money to make the necessary infrastructure upgrades, especially when factoring in the city’s projected revenue that would come with his financial proposal.

“In five years, we’d be generating $20 million a year in capital improvement money that could go back into our system year after year after year,” Henifin said. “And the rates will be affordable across the population in Jackson. So I don’t think we can hit a bigger home run than that.”

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

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‘Stronger than ever’: Jackson leadership details ‘massive’ water investment as boil advisory lingers

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‘Stronger than ever’: Jackson leadership details ‘massive’ water investment as boil advisory lingers

For decades, Jackson’s drinking water system has slowly crumbled as elected officials failed to put the proper resources into maintaining the complex infrastructure that over 170,000 people depend on. The infrastructure’s decline mirrors a decrease in federal investment towards local water systems that took place from the 1980s until just this past year.

But now, months after the plight of Jackson’s water found international attention, the federal government is shouldering the city’s infrastructure burden as much as ever.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba detailed Thursday morning that Jackson is set to receive $795 million in grants and direct appropriations for water system improvements. Most of that money — $600 million provided through Congress’ latest resolution to keep the government funded — will go to the city through reimbursements for capital projects and technical assistance.

The mayor said he visited Washington D.C. in November to meet with members of Congress and ask for supplemental funding.

“I am thankful for the federal government’s faith in Jackson’s recovery plan,” Lumumba said. “They now understand what I’ve been saying for the past six years: It’s not a matter of if our system would fail, but when it would fail.

“Through (Congress’) direct investments, we will emerge stronger than ever before.”

All of the $600 million will go towards the drinking water system, Lumumba explained at a press conference Thursday, as some in the south part of Jackson still lacked any water pressure because of a winter freeze that paralyzed the city’s pipes Christmas morning.

Most of Jackson is still under a boil water advisory, but other than the handful of homes in south Jackson, almost everyone else should be seeing normal pressure again, the city’s third-party manager Ted Henifin said.

As of Thursday morning, only residents in the 39211 zip code were no longer under the advisory, but Henifin said he expects a few more parts of the city would be lifted from the boil water notice that afternoon as officials await the bacteria test results for those neighborhoods.

The rest of the $795 million comes from the different federal funding avenues: $100 million from the 2022 Water Resources Development Act, which can go towards both drinking water and wastewater projects; $20 million Congress appropriated in September from the 2007 Water Resources Development Act; $4 million in and tribal assistance funds from the Environmental Protection Agency; and $71 million that Jackson is set to receive from the American Rescue Plant Act.

Lumumba reiterated that the cost to fully fix the drinking water and wastewater systems in Jackson would cost around $2 billion, and that even with this historic investment he plans to apply for more funding in the future.

When asked by a reporter how long he would stay in his role as third-party manager, Henifin clarified that the Department of Justice’s order with Jackson has no end date. While the agreement only includes a budget for one year, the DOJ order won’t end until “the (federal) judge is satisfied that we’ve put Jackson on a sustainable path forward” without needing a third-party manager.

As part of the DOJ agreement, Henifin is in charge of making sure the new funding goes to prioritized projects. The order tasks Henfin’s team with taking on 13 projects that address a wide array of water system issues:

  1. Operations and management contract
  2. Winterization of both treatment plants
  3. Corrosion control
  4. Implementation of an alternative water source plan
  5. Distribution system study, analysis and implementation, including replacing water lines, prioritizing any lead lines found
  6. System stabilization plan, including a sustainable revenue model
  7. SCADA system improvements, including sensors, actuators
  8. Assessment and repair of chemical systems at plants and wells
  9. Chlorine system improvements at O.B. Curtis
  10. Intake structure repairs
  11. Restoration of redundancy at treatment facilities, including pumps
  12. Sludge assessment and removal at water storage facilities
  13. Assessment of power vulnerability

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

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Jackson declares emergency over Christmas water woes

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Jackson declares emergency over Christmas water woes

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said Tuesday, a day after issuing a local of emergency, that the city’s crews were working with contractors in searching for leaks in Jackson’s water system as residents still deal with little to no pressure coming out of their taps.

The city issued a citywide boil water notice, the third one this year, around 10 a.m. Christmas morning. The mayor said Tuesday that pressure had improved the last two days, but is still low because of unidentified leaks throughout the city’s water lines.

Lumumba said there are five crews of workers roaming the city to find those leaks, but also called upon the help of residents, asking Jacksonians not to assume the city already knows the locations of all the leaks.

The boil water notice impacts the over 170,000 people who drink from Jackson’s surface water system. Lumumba clarified that the city’s well system customers should also boil their water.

“We’ve heard from residents who have not had water for days, I’ve spoken to residents who were scrambling to fix Christmas dinner with little to no water,” Lumumba said Tuesday. “I’ve spoken to residents who are tired of apologies.”

The recent calamity comes just days after Congress announced a historic $600 million investment towards the city’s water system, and just a few weeks after the federal government and Jackson reached an agreement over a temporary third-party takeover.

When asked about solutions, the mayor said part of the answer will be adding new gauges throughout the city to help more quickly identify leaks. But he also emphasized the need to weatherize the pipes, as well as the treatment plants.

The O.B. Curtis treatment plant was at the root of the last cold weather shutdown of the city’s water system in 2021, when exposed equipment at the plant broke down in the face of frigid temperatures. The city has since started to cover parts of O.B. Curtis, but the weatherization of the plant is incomplete.

City officials first told residents about the lack of pressure on Saturday, Christmas Eve, and said the city’s crews were working to determine the cause as both plants were functioning. A release later that night said many parts of south and northwest Jackson had low water pressure, and that some residents reported losing running water altogether.

Officials said Monday that it was getting “more and more” reports of little to no water pressure in west and south Jackson, as well as in Byram.

The cold weather, a constant foe to Jackson’s aging distribution system, dropped as low as 16 degrees on Saturday.

The recent federal aid to Jackson largely came as a result of the last citywide boil water notice, which ended in September after state and federal intervention. While the short-term support helped stabilize the system, Jackson has issued over 50 boil water notices to different parts of the city since then, showing the persisting fragility of its distribution system.

Declaring the local emergency helps the city distribute resources such as potable water as quickly as possible, said Lumumba, who added that he’s requested additional help from the state emergency agency.

To help identify water leaks from ruptured pipes around the city, officials ask that residents report information to 311 or 601-960-1111 during business hours, or 601-960-1875 after business hours.

Residents can refer to the state Health Department’s list of what to do during a boil water notice, which includes using boiled water to brush teeth, make ice, and wash food with.

Lumumba added that residents should stop letting their faucets drip as the weather warms up to help reduce water demand.

Jackson officials are working with the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition to distribute water. Elderly or disabled residents can call 311 to have water delivered. The city listed the following sites for water distribution on Tuesday:

South Jackson:

2 p.m.

Candlestick Plaza off Cooper Road, Jackson, MS

Northwest Jackson:

2 p.m.

Corner of Northside Drive and Manhattan Road near Smillow Prep

West Jackson

2 p.m.

Metro Center Mall near old Dillards Loading Dock

Byram

2 p.m.

Davis Road Park

2515 Davis Road

For updates on future water distribution, residents can call 311 or 601-960-1875 for information.

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

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Jackson meets the man tasked with fixing its water system

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Jackson meets the man tasked with fixing its water system

The new temporary face of Jackson’s water rehabilitation introduced himself Wednesday night to residents at Forest Hill High School, a recurring backdrop for the city’s drinking water shortcomings.

About 40 residents lined the long lunch tables in the high school’s cafeteria as the night began with Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba catching the audience up on the latest federal intervention.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice appointed Ted Henifin, a veteran water and sewer system professional, to head the third-party management team that will steer the city’s drinking water rehabilitation over the next year. The goal, as the DOJ explained in its order, is to stabilize the water system while the city negotiates a longer-term solution with the Environmental Protection Agency.

As Mississippi Today reported last week, the order gives Henifin’s team broader authority than what Jackson would be allowed normally. For instance, the new management won’t have to comply with procurement laws that dictate how to advertise and award contracts with public funding. It also has added power to pass rate increases on customer’s water bills, and, because it’s not a government body, it won’t be subject to public record laws.

Signs on water fountains warning to not drink the water at Forest Hill High School, where a town hall meeting was conducted addressing the current state of the city’s water system, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

At Forest Hill High, which often feels the brunt of water pressure issues because of its elevation and its distance from the treatment plants, audience members in the the large cafeteria asked about what these changes meant for their daily lives.

The first person to step up, Johnny Dickerson, wondered why he was seeing high prices on his water bills despite unreliable service.

“You got a $1,000, maybe $1,500 or $2,000 water bill, but you haven’t been using the water,” Dickerson said. “The water comes out brown and soapy, and you say boil it, but how are we going to pay a $5,000, $2,000, $1,000 bill for something we ain’t using?”

Lumumba, recognizing that Dickerson’s experience has been common among Jacksonians, replied that the issues with water meters haven’t been about their accuracy in measuring consumption, but rather communicating those measurements to the city’s offices to send out accurate bills. Residents often see high bills that have accumulated over months, rather than getting monthly bills, the mayor explained.

Dickerson cut the mayor off, saying it didn’t make sense that his bill would be so high if he wasn’t using the water. Frustrated, the man walked off before Lumumba could respond.

Other audience directed their questions at Henifin and the specifics of the new order. Brenda Scott, former mayoral candidate and president of the labor union for city employees, asked what will happen to Jackson’s water plant workers as Henifin’s team and contractors take over operations.

Lumumba said that no city employees will lose their job in the process. Henifin said the contractor will interview employees to see if they’re qualified to work on the team’s projects, in which case they would join the contractor and no longer be a city employee. The mayor added that if not chosen, water plant workers will be relocated within the public works department.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba answers questions from concerned residents regarding the current state of the city’s water system during a town hall meeting held at Forest Hill High School, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

Contracting and water rates

Henifin addressed some of the details in the DOJ order the media has highlighted.

As far as the procurement process, he said Monday that the ability to bypass state law was included because of how long the process can often take, and the new management team only has a year to make a long list of improvements. Henifin added that he will uphold the principles of that law, such as fairness, transparency, and equity. He also said it will be a priority to hire small minority contractors, and there will be a workshop in January for those businesses looking to make bids.

Asked about water rates, Henifin initially said Monday during a press conference that he didn’t think Jackson could afford to do so because of the city’s high poverty rate. On Wednesday, he echoed that he wasn’t in favor of raising rates, but that he couldn’t rule it out.

The DOJ order requires Henifin to write up a funding strategy for the water system within 60 days. If that plan recommends raising rates, the order gives Henifin the ability to do so even if the City Council disapproves.

Replacing water lines

Asked about the city’s plan to upgrade its distribution system, Henifin detailed some of the next steps for making needed water line replacements.

“Here in Jackson you’ve got about 110 miles of small diameter pipe, which is unusual. Most large water systems have eliminated that,” he said. “Current engineering would say that a 6-inch diameter is the smallest water pipe you want to down the street, and you’ve got a 100 miles of less than 6-inch pipe. You’ve got a lot of other pipe out there, there’s 400 and some miles total, but almost the first line in every study done (of Jackson’s system), the first recommendation is eliminate the small diameter pipes.”

Henifin estimated that it costs about $2 million to replace a mile of water lines, meaning to replace the 100 miles of smaller-than-recommended water lines would total $200 million.

He added that he expects by this summer the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which recently received $20 million from Congress to aid Jackson, will begin work on 10 miles of line upgrades.

Looking down the road, with the current funding available, he said it’s realistic for Jackson to do about 20 miles of line replacements a year, making it a 5- to 10-year process to replace all the small diameter pipes.

Water systems third-party administrator Ted Henifin, answers questions from concerned residents regarding the current state of the city’s water system during a town hall meeting held at Forest Hill High School, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

‘This wasn’t in my plan

Before coming to Jackson, Henifin had just retired in February from a 15-year stint as general manager of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, which he said handled wastewater from 1.8 million Virginians. He had looked forward to taking a break, calling the job during the pandemic a “crushing” experience.

While no longer officially working, he took on a role as a senior fellow with the nonprofit U.S. Water Alliance, where he helped small communities access money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure act.

The nonprofit, as part of an equity initiative, soon connected with Jackson, which at the time was in the middle of a citywide boil water notice. Henifin began advising the city directly and started making regular visits in September. Eventually, when the DOJ began deliberating the city’s future, Henifin offered to take on the role as third-party manager.

“This wasn’t in my plan,” he said. “But as I saw I could offer connections, play off some of my experience, and I really felt the connection with the people I was working with, and I really felt for the 160,000 people in Jackson not having dependable drinking water, and I thought, maybe egotistically, maybe I could make a difference.”

Overall, Henifin, a University of Virginia graduate, spent about 40 years working in Virginia in different government roles, including in Hampton, a city with a similar population size as Jackson.

The DOJ order gives Henifin’s team a $2.98 million budget for a 12-month period. That total includes $400,000 for Henifin’s salary, travel and living expenses; $1.1 million for staff pay and expenses; $1.4 million for contractor and consultant support; and $66,000 for other expenses, such as phones, computers, and insurance.

The order prioritizes 13 projects for the third-party team, which range from making equipment upgrades at the treatment plants, to doing corrosion control, to coming up with a plan to sustainably fund Jackson’s water system for the years to come.

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

DOJ order details third-party role over Jackson water, feds file new complaint

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DOJ order details third-party role over Jackson water, feds file new complaint

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it filed the interim proposal for overseeing Jackson's water system, which the city council approved on Nov. 17, making the agreement available to the public.

The parties await a federal court's approval before the agreement, which is set to last a year, takes effect. The DOJ also filed a new complaint against the city for its inability to comply with previous enforcement from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The order names Ted Henifin as Jackson's interim third-party manager. Henifin, a senior fellow at the nonprofit U.S. Water Alliance, managed the Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia Beach from 2006 until 2022, overseeing the city's sewer system.

The goal of the interim agreement, according to the order, is to stabilize Jackson's water system while the city and federal government look at long-term solutions, through litigation or a consent decree.

Henifin's job, as the order lays out, will be to "operate, maintain, and control" the water system in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as to make capital improvements, including specific projects prioritized in the order. The order also gives the third-party team authority over Jackson city employees and contractors to carry out those projects.

The order gives the third-party leadership broader spending authority than what the city would normally have. For instance, under the order, the management team won't have to comply with laws regulating how a governing body procures contracts. The order writes instead that the third-party team "will use best efforts to have the procurement process be competitive, transparent, and efficient." The order requires that the manager consult with the city attorney over any contracts longer than a year.

The document also gives Henifin and his team power to make rate changes for Jackson water customers.

Within 60 days, Henifin will have to make a funding strategy, which will include a short-, medium- and long-term — over 5 years — spending plan and schedule for the water system. In that plan, Henifin can propose rate changes as well as governing alternatives.

If the plan does include a rate change for customers, the order requires the mayor to put the change before the city council. But even if the city council doesn't approve the rate change, the order gives the third-party manager the authority to change the rates anyway, as long as it's been more than a year since the last rate adjustment. City officials last raised rates in December 2021.

Under the order, the third-party manager does not have the authority to consolidate, or regionalize, Jackson's water system, or allow another governing body to operate the system.

The agreement also stipulates that documents in the third-party manager's possession are not subject to public records laws because it is not a federal, state or local agency. The order does require the manager to make a website to inform the public with status reports, requests for proposals, and quarterly updates.

The federal court, after approving this order, would have authority over how Henifin's team is complying with the agreement to manage Jackson's water system.

The order lists 13 projects as priorities for the management team to facilitate:

  1. Operations and management contract
  2. Winterization of both treatment plants
  3. Corrosion control
  4. Implement an alternative water source plan
  5. Distribution system study, analysis and implementation, including replacing water lines, prioritizing any lead lines found
  6. System stabilization plan, including a sustainable revenue model
  7. SCADA system improvements, including sensors, actuators
  8. Assess and repair chemical systems at plants and wells
  9. Chlorine system improvements at O.B. Curtis
  10. Intake structure repairs
  11. Restore redundancy at treatment facilities, including pumps
  12. Sludge assessment and removal at water storage facilities
  13. Assess power vulnerability

The agreement gives Henifin's team a $2.98 million budget for a 12-month period. That total includes $400,000 for Henifin's salary, travel and living expenses; $1.1 million for staff pay and expenses; $1.4 million for contractor and consultant support; and $66,000 for other expenses, such as phones, computers, and insurance.

The order states that the budget won't be funded by customers' water bills. The city will pay for the budget with money from the EPA and other grants.

Gov. Tate Reeves applauded the , saying in a statement that it's "excellent news" that "Mayor (Chokwe Antar Lumumba) will no longer be overseeing the city's water system."

Reeves also announced that he authorized to commit $240,000 from the state's Disaster Mitigation Fund "as a bridge" to help during the transition of control over the water system.

Read the full order here.

New complaint

The DOJ also filed a new complaint against Jackson on Tuesday requesting a court-ordered injunction to require the city to comply with federal drinking water laws.

The complaint notes the city's inability to comply with previous enforcement actions issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, including an Administrative Order issued in July, 2021.

The filing details various violations of that order:

  • Staffing shortages: in just four months of operation this year, J.H. Fewell didn't have a certified Class A operator in at least 15 instances, according to the complaint.
  • Not implementing an alternative water source plan during boil water notices.
  • Turbidity in the water.
  • Not beginning the process to rehabilitate filters at J.H. Fewell on time.
  • Not implementing the city's corrosion control plan at J.H. Fewell.

The complaint also notes that, because of the system's defficiencies, contaminants are either present or likely to enter the system.

"State and local actions have been insufficient to prevent the threat of additional failures," the complaint says. "Such failures are likely to continue to occur, whether under normal working conditions or in extreme weather events."

Read the full complaint here.

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

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