Jackson’s water crisis is alarming; EPA OIG teams arrived to collect data and conduct interviews
JACKSON, Mississippi — An agency spokesperson told NBC News that a team from the Office of Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency has arrived in Jackson to begin a “multidisciplinary” top-to-bottom review of the current crisis involving the city’s drinking water. The review will cover the entire situation, from top to bottom.
Jennifer Kaplan, the spokesperson for the EPA, stated that the Office of Inspector General is “very interested and concerned” about the situation in Jackson, Mississippi. “Starting the previous week, we began sending employees from the OIG to gather data and conduct interviews. We anticipate making an announcement on work relating to the city’s water system over the following week.”
There are teams of auditors, evaluators, and criminal detectives working for the inspector general’s office; however, the office did not specify which exact teams were sent to Jackson.
In recent years, the problems with Jackson’s water system have come under the scrutiny of state and federal regulatory officials, who have flagged problems ranging from inadequate staffing at the city’s main water treatment plant to delays in carrying out needed repairs. State and federal regulatory officials have flagged problems ranging from inadequate staffing at the city’s main water treatment plant to delays in carrying out needed repairs.
A water outage that lasted for many days recently affected residents, and even now, more than 150,000 people living in the state capital of Mississippi do not have access to clean drinking water. On Friday, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves stated that it was improbable for a citywide boil-water notice that has been in effect since July 29 to be lifted during the course of the weekend.
The investigation being conducted by the inspector general in Jackson is analogous to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role in Flint, Michigan, which began in 2014 and resulted in a damning report on lead pollution four years later. The findings of this analysis came to the following conclusion: “The EPA should strengthen its monitoring of state drinking water programs to improve the agency’s response to drinking water contamination situations and increase its efficiency and effectiveness.”
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, finally led to the filing of nine criminal charges.
Conversations with local, state, and federal players that have a role in managing the public resources allocated to ensuring that residents have access to clean water will be the first step in the Jackson review that will be conducted by the inspector general.
Even though the water issues in Jackson are not new, the decision of the inspector general to start an investigation so soon after the crisis reached a boiling point appeared significant to Erik Olson, the senior strategic director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Olson stated that this could prove to be a significant step forward from the oversight problems that occurred during the Flint water crisis.
According to Olson, the independence of the inspector general from the hierarchy of the EPA would also pose a challenge to the established dynamic on the ground, as regional EPA officials frequently collaborate with state and local government officials and have longstanding relationships with these entities.
He said, “I think the inspector general, who after Flint has recognized some of the huge flaws in EPA’s approach, could unearth a lot of the fundamental problems that have been occurring in Jackson and maybe even draw a line between the flaws in Flint and what’s happening here.” “I think the inspector general could unearth a lot of the fundamental problems that have been occurring in Jackson and maybe even draw a line between the flaws in Flint and what’s happening here.” “That has the potential to be really strong because they would be able to document the fact that there is a systematic problem that has not been handled,” you say.
In the past, the EPA conducted an examination of Jackson’s water treatment facilities as part of an enforcement investigation that took place in March 2020. The study discovered issues at the city’s water treatment plants, including the O.B. The Curtis Water Treatment Plant is the primary center of attention during the present water crisis in the city.
The investigation revealed that the city’s water treatment plants had equipment that was “inoperable,” “inadequate staffing,” failed to monitor for lead and copper, and contained water filters that had been broken for three years. Additionally, the plants had not monitored for copper and lead levels. The study also mentioned that there was an accident with some equipment in 2018, which “placed the lives of two water operators in jeopardy.”
According to available public documents, the city of Jackson’s application for EPA assistance to rebuild more than one hundred collapsed pipe sites in 2019 was denied.
According to an announcement made by the EPA regarding funding in December 2021, the state of Mississippi will receive around $75 million from the EPA to enhance the drinking water and wastewater systems that are located throughout the state. It is not entirely apparent what proportion of the monies are dedicated to Jackson.
The state legislature of Mississippi decided to put the state’s portion of federal monies from the 2021 American Rescue Plan, which was a Covid-19 relief package, toward the improvement of the state’s water infrastructure. Last week was the first week that Mississippi water companies were able to begin the application process for that money, and the deadline for submitting funding proposals is September 30.