Reeves says the federal government is working to ensure Jackson city political leadership doesn’t have authority to mismanage the water system any further.
On Wednesday, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves issued an Executive Order officially ending the August 30, 2022, State of Emergency surrounding the City of Jackson and surrounding areas of Hinds County that receive water from the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant effective 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.
This action ends the state’s intervention into the municipal water crisis that ensured the city’s system did not fully fail.
In late August, with a nearly month-long boil water alert in place, and the two primary raw water pumps at the O.B. Curtis facility previously removed for repairs and out of commission, the total collapse of the City’s water system was imminent. Governor Reeves declared a State of Emergency in response to this situation.
As previously reported by Y’all Politics, according to multiple sources on-site and close to the State of Mississippi’s intervention in Jackson’s O. B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant that were not authorized to speak publicly, state Health and Emergency Management officials were met with a mix of “grateful faces” from a severely overworked and critically understaffed facility workforce operating in “fundamentally unsafe conditions” that needed to be immediately addressed.
Critically unsafe municipal staffing levels were discovered when state officials arrived on-site. Particularly in the overnight hours, staff had dwindled to one operator on-site tasked with handling both the membrane and conventional filtering systems leaving a single point of failure from a staffing perspective. They also discovered that there were not qualified electricians on-site, leaving unqualified staff to handle these critical tasks.
The facility had all but ceased standard preventative maintenance required for compliant water treatment facilities as the limited number of employees were essentially moving from “crisis to crisis” hourly. This led to basic safety protocols and precautions being ignored due to lack of staffing.
As the Governor’s Executive Order notes, “in less than 72 hours after the emergency was declared, water pressure was returned to the City of Jackson, and in less than 15 days the boil water alert was lifted.”
Following the state’s intervention in the crisis, the Environmental Protection Agency has now determined that the water from both the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant and the J.H. Fewell water Treatment Plant safe to drink.
“I’m incredibly thankful to the folks at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, Mississippi State Department of Health, and the Mississippi National Guard who worked tirelessly to restore clean water to the residents of Jackson and respond to this emergency situation. They have made countless repairs, brought in new equipment, and done heroic work,” said Governor Tate Reeves. “The only remaining imminent challenge is the city’s refusal to hire routine maintenance staff, and that cannot constitute a state emergency. We need new leadership at the helm so that this crisis of incompetence cannot continue.”
The Jackson City Council has unanimously approved an agreement with the federal government regarding appointing a third-party administrator to operate the city’s water system.
Governor Reeves and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba have not always seen eye to eye during this saga, with Reeves questioning the city’s competence and priorities. The Governor said in a release that the federal government is working to make sure Jackson officials do not mismanage the water system going forward.
“It is also clear that the federal government is working to ensure that Jackson political leadership does not have the authority to mismanage the water system any further. That process needs to be completed, and it needs to be completed quickly,” Reeves said.
Governor Reeves ends the emergency as the justification for it no longer exists. He said that in order for the momentum by the federal government to continue, the state needs to stick with its deadline to end the State of Emergency and its operating of the city’s water system for the city.
“I am hopeful that the federal government’s efforts to take control away from incompetent hands will wrap up swiftly,” Reeves concluded.
The Executive Order can be read in full here.