By Peter Chawaga
In the face of growing mistrust from consumers and lingering questions about the country’s buried infrastructure, the U.S. EPA is looking to intervene in Jackson, Mississippi’s high-profile struggles to deliver clean drinking water.
“The federal government wants to work with officials in Missippi’s capital city to reach a legal agreement that ensures Jackson can sustain its water system in the future, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan said,” per ABC News. “Federal attorneys also sent a letter to city officials … threatening legal action against the city if it does not agree to negotiations related to its water system.”
Last month, a state of emergency was declared after rainfall and flooding left 180,000 Jackson residents without access to reliable water, following years of water system struggles that can be traced to significantly outdated infrastructure. Since then, many have noted that the issues there have contributed to a general lack of trust that residents in Jackson and throughout the country have regarding their drinking water and other public services.
Regan seemed to have this long-standing dynamic in mind as he addressed the expected EPA intervention.
“The people of Jackson, Mississippi, have lacked access to safe and reliable water for decades,” Regan said, according to ABC News. “After years of neglect, Jackson’s water system finally reached a breaking point this summer, leaving tens of thousands of people without any running water for weeks. These conditions are unacceptable in the United States of America.”
Regan and the EPA might also have in mind that the failures in Jackson have emboldened calls for switching to private drinking water service, circumventing the government-led model that the agency is tasked with enforcing.
“The crisis in Jackson has exposed a long-standing history of racism, white flight, and state sabotage of a majority Black city,” The Nation reported. “Tate Reeves, the Republican governor of Mississippi and himself the product of the suburbs to which white residents fled, has suggested that privatizing Jackson’s water supply could fix the problem.”
But, as many drinking water and wastewater utility employees would be quick to note, the promise of privatized water may not be all that the residents of Jackson have been led to believe. For instance, an advocate who has pushed back against similar efforts in Pittsburgh, noted some of these concerns in the context of Jackson’s problems.
“A lot of towns are financially distressed, and they have a lot of needs, including upgrading their water systems,” the advocate said, according to The Nation. “Companies can now offer inflated prices for water systems, and local leaders are happy to get the cash. But then ratepayers are stuck paying higher rates forever.”
To read more about how public administrations manage drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, visit Regulations And Legislation Solutions Center.