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Federal watchdog is probing Jackson, Mississippi, water crisis

JACKSON, Miss. A team from environmentally friendly Protection Agencys Office of Inspector General found its way to Jackson the other day to begin with a multidisciplinary top-to-bottom overview of the current normal water crisis, a company spokesperson told NBC News.

The EPA OIG is keenly interested and worried about what’s happening in Jackson, Mississippi, said the spokesperson, Jennifer Kaplan. The other day, we began sending OIG personnel to get data and conduct interviews, and on the coming week we be prepared to announce work linked to the citys water system.

The inspector generals office is staffed by teams of auditors, evaluators and criminal investigators; any office didn’t say which specific teams were deployed to Jackson.

Recently, the problems with Jacksons water system attended under scrutiny from state and federal regulatory officials, who’ve flagged problems which range from inadequate staffing at the citys main water treatment plant to delays in undertaking needed repairs.

Residents recently experienced a dayslong outage of running water, and also now a lot more than 150,000 residents in Mississippis capital still lack clean normal water. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Friday a citywide boil-water notice in place since July 29 was unlikely to be lifted on the weekend.

The inspector generals inquiry in Jackson is comparable to the EPAs involvement in Flint, Michigan, from 2014, which culminated in a blistering report on lead contamination four years later. That report concluded: The EPA should strengthen its oversight of state normal water programs to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of the agencys reaction to normal water contamination emergencies.

The Flint water crisis ultimately led to nine indictments.

The inspector generals Jackson review begins with conversations with local, state and federal players who’ve a job in overseeing the general public resources focused on ensuring residents have clean water.

As the issues with water in Jackson aren’t new, the inspector generals decision to begin with a probe so immediately after the crisis hit a boiling point appeared significant to Erik Olson, the senior strategic director of health insurance and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who said it might end up being a large step of progress from the bungled oversight of the Flint water crisis.

The inspector generals independence of the EPA hierarchy would also challenge the longstanding dynamic on the floor, as regional EPA officials often work closely and also have longstanding relationships with state and local governments, Olson said.

I believe the inspector general, who after Flint has recognized a few of the huge flaws in EPAs approach, could unearth most of the fundamental issues that have already been occurring in Jackson and perhaps even draw a line between your flaws in Flint and whats happening here, he said. That might be potentially very powerful since they could document that theres a systemic problem which has gone unresolved.

The EPA previously investigated Jacksons water treatment facilities in a March 2020 enforcement investigation that found problems at the citys water treatment plants, like the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant that is the focus of the citys current water crisis.

Cases of bottled water are handed out at a Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition distribution site
Cases of water in bottles are passed out at a Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition distribution site in Jackson, Miss., on Aug. 31.Brad Vest / Getty Images

The investigative report showed the citys water treatment plants had inoperable equipment and inadequate staffing, had didn’t monitor for lead and copper and had water filters that were broken for 3 years. The report also noted that equipment had collapsed in 2018, putting the lives of two water operators at an increased risk.

The town of Jackson unsuccessfully requested EPA funds to rehabilitate a lot more than 100 collapsed pipe sites in 2019, in accordance with online public record information.

Mississippi receives roughly $75 million in EPA funds to boost normal water and wastewater systems over the state, in accordance with a December 2021 EPA funding announcement. Its unclear just how much of these funds are centered on Jackson.

Mississippis Legislature allocated $450 million of the states share of federal funds from the 2021 American Rescue Plan, a Covid-19 relief package, to water infrastructure improvements. Mississippi water utilities could actually begin trying to get that money the other day, with requests for funding due by Sept. 30.

Laura Strickler reported from Washington, D.C.; Bracey Harris reported from Jackson; Phil McCausland reported from NY.

Laura Strickler is really a Washington-based investigative reporter with the NBC News Investigative Unit.

Bracey Harrisis a national reporter for NBC News, located in Jackson, Mississippi.

Phil McCausland can be an NBC News reporter.

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