JACKSON, Miss (AP) — Mississippi officials on Friday approved the city of Jackson’s request for $35.6 million in federal funds to help fix its crumbling water infrastructure, following this summer’s flooding-induced breakdowns that left 150,000 people without running water for days.
The Mississippi Municipality and County Water Infrastructure Grant Program approved the full amount the state’s capital city requested to pay for seven water and sewer projects.
State lawmakers created the program in 2022 to provide grants matching the federal government’s aid for cities and counties financed through the American Rescue Plan Act. The dollar-for-dollar match means Jackson will have $71.3 million to upgrade its water system.
Congress passed the sweeping American Rescue Plan Act to tame the public health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the funds would help provide reliable drinking water to a city that has periodically lost access to such a basic necessity.
“We are grateful for the assistance and will continue to explore all potential funding avenues to achieve this end,” Lumumba said.
Over $400 million in match funds will be awarded for the entire state in two rounds. Applications for the $180 million first round closed on Sept. 30. About 430 cities and counties in Mississippi applied for funding. The second round of funds will be awarded sometime in the spring. Jackson-area legislative leaders plan to press for money during the 2022 legislative session, which begins in January.
“I was told by the executive director that one of the city’s drinking water projects scored higher than any other application in this first round,” said Democratic Sen. John Horhn of Jackson. “We are looking for the state to do more once the regular session begins in January.”
A lingering boil water notice preceded the late summer crisis after testing revealed the tap water was unsafe.
Among seven water and sewer system upgrades, the funds will be used to help replace a raw water pump at the beleaguered O.B. Curtis water treatment plant, which fell into crisis in late August after torrential rain fell in central Mississippi. The deluge altered the raw water quality entering Jackson’s treatment plants. That slowed the treatment process, depleted supplies in water tanks and caused a precipitous drop in pressure.
Understaffing at its water treatment plants, a shrinking tax base and political disputes between city and state officials have also contributed to the city’s water woes.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Monday that the water in Jackson is safe to drink based on samples it collected over the past several months. But the agency is still waiting on another round of test results to determine whether Jackson has too much lead and copper in its water. The results are expected in mid-November.
On Oct. 20, the EPA said it was investigating whether Mississippi state agencies have discriminated against Jackson by refusing to fund water system improvements in the city, where more than 80% of residents are Black and about a quarter of the population lives in poverty.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.