The Justice Department on Tuesday asked the courts to appoint a manager to oversee Jackson's water system. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 30 (UPI) -- The Justice Department said its has reached an agreement with the city of Jackson and the Mississippi department of health to install an interim third party manager to oversee the capital city's water system, in an effort to build confidence in the troubled utility.
The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it has filed the proposal for approval by the courts as an interim measure while the Biden administration, the city and the state health department negotiate a long-term solution for the city's drinking water.
"The Department of Justice takes seriously its responsibility to keep the American people safe and to protect their civil rights," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. "Together with our partners at the [Environmental Protection Agency] we will continue to seek justice for the residents of Jackson, Mississippi. And we will continue to prioritize cases in the communities most burdened by environmental harm."
Severe flooding in late August caused the city's largest and beleaguered water treatment facility to fail, leaving upwards of 160,000 people in Jackson and the surrounding area without safe running water and prompting Gov. Tate Reeves to declare a state of emergency.
A boil water order was in place until mid-September and Reeves only rescinded his emergency declaration last week.
Reeves, a Republican, celebrated the Justice Department's move to strip Jackson's Democratic mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba of the authority to oversee the city's water system.
"The system should be out of the city politician hands very soon," he said in a statement. "More work to do, but it is very promising that this problem is now going to be solved outside of the city's backrooms."
The Justice Department said the third party manager will be tasked with overseeing the city's sewer business administration, implementing capital improvements, correcting conditions that endanger residents' health and operating the drinking water system in compliance with local, state and federal laws.
"Every American -- regardless of where they live, their income or the color of their skin -- deserves access to safe, reliable drinking water," Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources division said in a statement.
"Through this litigation, we will act to ensure that the city of Jackson's water system will be compliant with the Safe Drinking Water Act and other state and local regulations so that those serviced by the system can have confidence that the water they are consuming is safe."
The Justice Department on Tuesday also filed a complaint against the city accusing it of failing to provide drinking water compliant with the SDWA to its residents.