The first of a records’ release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows a pattern of Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) officials citing repeated violations with the city of Jackson’s water system and city officials asking for more time to comply.
The city and the EPA reached an agreement in June that will allow the city to get its drinking water system back into compliance with regulations. The cost tag will be massive, with $70 million needed to repair the discrepancies at the two treatment plants and $100 million to repair issues with the city’s water distribution system.
The records were obtained by the Northside Sun and show that the state and federal officials have been trying to ensure the city’s compliance with state and federal standards regarding drinking water.
Key events detailed in the written and email correspondence between city, EPA and MSDH officials are presented here in chronological order.
MSDH official William Moody told the EPA in a June 13, 2019 email after a meeting with city officials that the city requested permission to push back deadlines for compliance with the lead and copper standards in drinking water standards to September 17, 2019 for Curtis and December 29, 2020 for Fewell.
City officials told the EPA and MSDH on September 17, 2019 that the installation of a soda ash system designed was 90 percent complete. The installation was required under a MSDH compliance plan issued on February 12, 2016. The work was supposed to be complete and operators trained on its use by November 2019.
EPA official Amanda Driskell emailed the MSDH to inform them of a pending information request it made of the city regarding the lead and copper content of the city’s water on November 15, 2019.
The MSDH sent the city a letter (that it also forwarded to the EPA) on December 18, 2019 that informed them of construction delays and the amendment to discontinue upgrades at the J.H. Fewell treatment plant so it could use existing treatment components to get the city compliant with lead and copper standards in drinking water would put the city in violation.
On January 16, 2020, the EPA and the MSDH informed the city of an site inspection of the city’s two treatment plants, O.B. Curtis (treats water from the Ross Barnett Reservoir) and the other, J.H. Fewell (treats water taken from the Pearl River).
An inspection conducted by MSDH and EPA on February 3, 2020 finds numerous discrepancies, including turbidity (the measure of the degree in which water loses transparency because of dissolved solids), disinfection concerns with ultraviolet lights and a lack of proper disinfectant chemical storage and the condition of the distribution system, which is plagued by numerous leaks and breaks.
The MSDH later informs the EPA of the city of Jackson’s continued violations of clean drinking water standards on February 28, 2020.
The MSDH sent Jackson city engineer and Public Works Director Charles Williams on March 6, 2020 a list of requirements for monthly and weekly operating reports for the water system to be submitted to the state agency.
On March 18, 2020, the city and officials from the Department of Health were on a conference call. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba expressed the city’s desire to work collaboratively with the state to meet compliance.
Williams said communication with the city should be done via email due to all of the personnel involved being overextended and to call only in an emergency.
MSDH official Amy McLeod said the covers on the membrane assemblies have been pending for five years and continually cited in inspection reports. She also said the problems with the Claritrac system caused operators to have to drain basins every five to seven days due to sludge levels of 10-plus feet that had settled out of the water. She also said operators needed more training and were running chemical feeds at extreme highs and lows, which she said was unacceptable.
She also said the soda ash system needed to be sidelined as the pH level was climbing to unsafe levels, at least until a dilution system was installed and functioning.
One constant demerit in state inspection reports — a lack of trained staff at both treatment plants — is at least being addressed
The city is advertising for two operators for the Fewell plant and two positions at Curtis: An instrument technician and a plant operations supervisor. Earlier this summer, the city was advertising for three operator positions at Fewell and two instrumentation technician openings. Both positions are critical since instrumentation technicians service the instruments that control the filtration process while operators control and monitor the treatment process, take samples and perform adjustments if required.