JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The independent manager working to fix the long-troubled water system in Mississippi’s capital city will also be assigned to oversee repairs to the city’s deteriorating sewer system, under an order filed Wednesday by a federal judge.
Officials from the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Jackson all agreed to give the extra duties to Ted Henifin.
Henifin had decades of experience running water systems in other states before U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate appointed him late last year to run the Jackson system.
Wingate had said during a hearing in May that he was considering putting Henifin in charge of the sewer system, as well.
Todd Kim, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement Wednesday that the new agreement will lead to faster steps to improve problems, including “sewage discharges that threaten public health and the environment.”
“This action shows the continuing commitment of the Justice Department to seek justice, health and safety for the residents of Jackson, Mississippi, and to prioritize enforcement in the communities most burdened by environmental harm,” Kim said.
Jackson has struggled with water problems for decades. The federal government intervened in the water system after many of the city’s 150,000 residents and many businesses were left without running water last August and September after heavy rains exacerbated problems at a water treatment plant. People waited in lines for water to drink, bathe, cook and flush toilets in Jackson as some businesses were temporarily forced to close for lack of safe drinking water.
Henifin told Wingate during a hearing in June that Jackson’s water is safe to drink, but that instilling public confidence in the system is a challenge. Crews have been repairing broken water lines.
Jackson also has longstanding problems with its sewer system. The city agreed to enter a consent decree in 2012 with the EPA to prevent the overflow of raw sewage and bring the city into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Reports required by the consent decree showed more than 4 billion gallons of untreated or partially treated wastewater were dumped into the Pearl River between March 2020 and February 2022.
Cover Photo: Ted Henifin, interim third-party manager appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice to help fix the long-troubled water system of the Mississippi’s capital city, speaks about the expansive list of reforms the city’s water department is undertaking, June 5, 2023, in Jackson, Miss. Henifin is also being assigned to correct problems with Jackson’s sewer system, under an order by a federal judge on Wednesday, July 26. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)