Virtual Meeting Addresses Jackson’s Water Issues
By Nell Luter Floyd
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba encouraged listeners during a virtual town hall meeting focused on the city’s water issues to contact state and national leaders and ask them to support improvements to the system.
“We need you to lift up your voices,” he said during the March 19 meeting, “From Source to Sewer: The City of Jackson’s Water System,” sponsored by the city of Jackson and the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership and moderated by Jeff Good, president of the Chamber Partnership and owner of three Jackson restaurants
“Part of the issue is it is posed as Jackson’s problem, and yes, Jackson deals with the brunt of the problem, but when Jackson suffers the state of Mississippi suffers.”
Lumumba said during the meeting that he wants “a coalition of the willing” to work together to solve the problem.
“We don’t care about party or partisanship,” he said. “We care about results.”
About 250 people attended the meeting that also featured Charles Williams, Ph.D., director of the city’s Public Works Department; Jordan Rae Hillman, director of Planning and Development; Carla Dazet, deputy director of Public Works; Safiya R. Omari, Ph.D., chief of staff for the mayor; and Cynthia Buchanan, executive vice president at the Chamber Partnership.
Jackson City Council member Virgi Lindsay was among city, state and representative of Mississippi’s congressional delegation who listened to the meeting.
“I joined to be supportive of the Chamber and to hear the questions and concerns of participants,” she said. “I vote on funding for all of these complex matters and educated myself early on. I understood much of it before I ran for office in 2017. These are among the most challenging issues facing our city.”
The meeting focused on problems brought on by the winter storm in February that caused equipment at the city’s two water treatment plants, which are not accustomed to prolonged freezing temperatures, to malfunction. Numerous water pipes burst across the city as the system began to thaw and water pressure was restored.
Residents who had water had to boil it before drinking it after the system suffered from a drop in water pressure. Others without water had to resort to bottled water to drink and secure water to flush toilets.
The National Guard brought in tankers of non-drinkable water for residents, and many organizations gave away bottled water.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Williams described how the water distribution system, the sanitary sewer system and the wastewater treatment process work.
Lumumba explained during the meeting that the city is taking steps to build, install and test a new water sewer billing system. Gone will be the days when some residents receive grossly inaccurate water sewer bills and others go months without receiving bills because of faulty water meters and how they communicate data for bills.
Also a factor for Jackson has been a decades-long flight of affluent taxpayers to metro Jackson suburbs, which has reduced the city’s tax base and its ability to maintain its infrastructure. Hillman said during the meeting she’s encouraged by the growth in the number residents who live in downtown Jackson because that’s good for the tax base.
Exactly where funds to overhaul the water system are coming from remains to be determined.
Lumumba requested $47 million from the state Legislature in order to shore up problems with the city’s water treatment plants.
The city could also see an additional $ 44 million from the coronavirus relief bill, which provides funding for city governments, but Lumumba has said much of that money will go to coronavirus-related expenses.
New legislation introduced in Congress could bring millions of dollars to Jackson to help improve its troubled water system.
The Emergency Water Infrastructure Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, would provide the city with assistance through a combination of loans, loan forgiveness, and grants. Funding for the legislation would come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Economic Development Authority.
Hyde-Smith proposes authorizing $47 million through the Army Corps of Engineers Section 219 program, which would allow the agency to provide assistance for the design and construction of environmental infrastructure projects.
The bill outlines specific stipulations regarding disadvantaged communities and natural disasters, which would provide Jackson with added benefits from the EPA Drinking Water State Revolving Loans programs.
Similarly, Jackson would benefit from provisions to use no less than $25 million in unobligated EDA Economic Adjustment Assistance grants funding to “eligible systems.”