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Justice Department Threatens Legal Action Over Water Crisis In Jackson, Mississippi

The U.S. Department of Justice has threatened legal action against city officials in Jackson, Mississippi, if they don’t comply with the department’s recommendations on fixing the city’s ailing water system.

DOJ sent a letter to the city’s mayor on Monday addressing years’ worth of issues with the water supply that it said violate the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The letter cited “the roughly 300 boil water notices that have been issued over the past two years, the multiple line breaks during that same time, and the recent drinking water crisis where most City residents did not have access to running water for many days,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by local station WAPT.

“We are prepared to file an action… but would hope this matter could be resolved with an enforceable agreement that is in the best interest of both the city and the United States,” wrote Todd Kim, an assistant attorney general with DOJ’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division.

The O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, seen in August, has been struggling to provide residents with safe drinking water.

Brad Vest via Getty Images

A representative with the Environmental Protection Agency met with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba on Monday to discuss the ongoing water crisis and potential solutions, including the city’s water system being taken over by a third party.

“There is a real sense of urgency,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan during a press conference with Lumumba. “I don’t believe there are any options that are off the table.”

Regan said the DOJ’s letter warning of potential legal action is “a formality.”

Jackson residents were recently forced to go without running water for several days, and endured a boil-water notice for a month due to longstanding problems at a water treatment plant. As of Tuesday, residents at a number of locations were still being advised to boil water as a precaution.

The lack of clean water led the White House and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to declare a state of emergency for Jackson late last month, opening the door for federal and state resources to help distribute water and oversee repairs to the city’s water treatment facility.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is seen during a news briefing earlier this month with EPA Administrator Michael Regan, left, and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), right. Lumumba said he's open to receiving federal assistance.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is seen during a news briefing earlier this month with EPA Administrator Michael Regan, left, and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), right. Lumumba said he’s open to receiving federal assistance.

“The people of Jackson, Mississippi, have lacked access to safe and reliable water for decades,” Regan said in a statement Monday. “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.”

Lumumba said Monday that the city hasn’t rejected the idea of federal assistance or a third party stepping in to help with operations and maintenance.

The mayor has previously expressed trepidation at the idea of privatizing the city’s water system, telling NPR earlier this month that he worried it could raise rates.

“Private companies are not coming to be benevolent. They’re coming to make a profit,” he said. “And so when there are extensive and critical repairs that need to be made, then they’re making that investment on the front end, looking to have a serious return on the back end. And the way that they do that is to raise the rates on the residents.”

The DOJ did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment Tuesday.

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