The Jackson, Mississippi, city council voted Thursday to approve a legal agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency which aims to find a long-term solution to the city’s water crisis.
City and state officials have been engaged in ongoing negotiations to establish federal involvement in running the city’s troubled water system, CNN has previously reported. The goal of the agreement is to deliver a sustainable, reliable water system that ensures Jackson residents have long-term access to clean, safe drinking water, something they have been lacking for years.
In order to proceed, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba must sign off on the agreement, which would last for 12 months. Lumumba has said he fully “endorses” the EPA having a presence in Jackson to assist with the crisis.
After the mayor’s agreement, the proposal must then be filed by the US Justice Department in federal court and approved by a judge, according to the EPA.
In a statement to CNN, an EPA spokesperson called the city council’s decision “a critical step toward delivering a sustainable water system for Jackson residents.”
Longstanding issues with Jackson’s neglected water infrastructure were highlighted in late August when heavy rains overwhelmed the water system and launched the city’s roughly 150,000 residents into a severe public water emergency.
The failure of the city’s main treatment plant resulted in major water shortages and weeks of unsafe drinking water. It was not until late October that the agency determined water from the city’s treatment plants had become safe to drink.
The EPA opened an investigation into the city’s water systems in mid-September when many residents were still required to boil their water before consuming it or using it to shower, cook or wash dishes.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan has visited Jackson four times in the past year as part of his goal to “spotlight longstanding environmental justice concerns” across the country, pointing out that the predominantly Black city has suffered from unsafe water for years.
“People have lost trust in their government and so this will give transparency to the process,” Regan said Tuesday. “But also having a federal court in Jackson’s backyard to oversee and call fair shots is exactly what we need to rebuild not only the infrastructure but the trust that the community has lost.”
In response to complaints from Jackson residents and the NAACP, the EPA is conducting a federal civil rights investigation to determine whether the Mississippi Department of Health and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality “discriminated against the majority Black population of the City of Jackson on the basis of race in the funding of water infrastructure and treatment programs and activities.”
The city remains under a state of emergency regarding its water systems until November 22.