Federal officials will address the Jackson City Council at its meeting on May 11 concerning its order issued concerning significant deficiencies in the water system.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told the city council last week that his invitation was accepted by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials, who sent an order last March concerning infractions with the city’s water system.
“They will not only explain the order and talk about a number of things about the relationship and what the expectations are of the city of Jackson,” Lumumba told the city council at the meeting.
The order, which says it is a final agency action, was issued on March 27, 2020. The order said conditions in the Jackson system represented “an imminent and substantial endangerment to the persons served by the system.”
The water system has two treatment plants, one of which treats water from the Ross Barnett Reservoir and the other from the Pearl River. In addition, the southern part of the city is served by nine groundwater wells, with six of those still in operation. They were shut down in 2014, but brought back online the next year due to problems with the distribution system.
The Mississippi Department of Health (MSDH), along with the EPA, inspected the two water treatment plants, O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell and found numerous violations of federal regulations governing clean drinking water. The MSDH later informed the city on March 23, 2020 in a letter that it found major violations that required remediation in 45 days.
These violations included:
A lack of qualified operators that led to some shifts at the Curtis plant being worked without a certified operator in charge.
There were a lack of working instruments at both treatment plants designed to monitor various parts of the water treatment process. These instruments measure pH, chlorine, turbidity (the amount of suspended matter in water), electrical charge. Inspectors found many of these vital instruments were working improperly, leaving operators to use grab samples taken every four hours.
Two ground storage tanks were found to have draining issues and ground shifting, requiring repair.
There were also problems with parts of the Curtis plant designed to reduce water pH, filters at both facilities overdue for treatment and membranes that needed repair.
The sludge removal systems of both water plants are non-functional and the plants are using draining basins instead as a way to remove sludge. The report said the sludge accumulates to a depth of 10-plus feet and is wasteful for treatment chemicals. The report also said the current levels of sludge in the basins “significantly increases the chance of treatment process issues or complete loss of the conventional treatment process.”
The report also said the raw water main from the Ross Barnett Reservoir was in such bad condition that it impedes treatment and disallows major repairs to be made. The intake building at the reservoir is also in failing condition with holes in the roof.
On March 30, 2020, the EPA sent the city an investigation report that found more issues with the city’s water system, some of which date back to 2015.
According to the EPA report, the city has dealt with regulatory issues with its water system going back to 2015, when the city’s drinking water was found to have amounts of lead and copper that exceeded federal standards. The city also had not properly monitored its water supply for these standards since 1992.
Those violations of the lead/copper standard were addressed in a compliance plan issued to the city by the Mississippi Department of Health on February 12, 2016 that was supposed to be completed by December 29, 2019. The Department of Health told the EPA that it anticipated non-compliance with the deadline. On January 29, 2020, the MSDH issued a violation to the city for its failure to install the corrosion control equipment as required by the 2016 compliance plan.
The EPA also said the city didn’t properly inform citizens of the lead levels.