Eight months after a devastating drinking water crisis, the Justice Department has finally reached an agreement with Mississippi government and the Environmental Protection Agency to upgrade the city of Jackson's sewage infrastructure.
The agreement, reached Wednesday, appoints Ted Henifin as interim third-party manager for Jackson’s sewer system. Henifin has been serving the same role in Jackson's drinking water system since last November.
“In November of last year, the Justice Department filed a proposal to appoint a third-party manager to oversee and implement improvements to Jackson’s drinking water system,” Larry Starfield, principal deputy assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a statement. “Today, we continue to protect the health and safety of Jackson residents by proposing the oversight and programs needed to restore Jackson’s sewer systems.”
The Health Department placed Jackson under a boil water notice in July 2022 when it discovered cloudy, brown water exacerbated by old and often damaged pipes. In August, the water crisis was made worse when heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding damaged the city's largest water treatment plant.
Jackson's 150,000 residents — 80 percent of whom are Black — remained without clean drinking water until January of this year. In December, the United States Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the city over their failure to restore clean and safe drinking water.
The crisis in Jackson has been deemed a case of "environmental racism," similar to that in Flint, Michigan where a majority-Black community's inadequate infrastructure tainted the drinking water for years. Mississippi's majority-White government continuously failed to act.
The Environmental Protection Agency's civil rights division, launched under the Biden Administration to combat such cases, brought a lawsuit on behalf of Jackson residents, who have since received $115 million in funding from the Biden Administration. With the EPA and DOJ deal complete, repair on the city's infrastructure can finally begin.