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Senator Horhn: Jackson water crisis is a ‘great embarrassment’

Photo courtesy of MS Senate

It’s been over three weeks since the Mississippi Department of Health (MSDH) imposed a boil water notice on the city of Jackson, attributing the notice to the water’s high turbidity levels and cloudiness.

For weeks, Jackson has struggled to successfully pass two consecutive days of clean water tests from all 120 sites of the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, with one news release stating that the turbidity levels were over 11 times higher than the allowable standard.

“Water samples were taken that raised concerns with 1 to 2 levels of turbidity levels, which is above the standard .3 turbidity units that elevate during the summer,” a city press release stated. “The level of manganese combined with the use of lime caused an increase in turbidity at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant.”

According to Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the tests will come back with a passing score on one day, but another test or two will have a negative result the following day. Lumumba has also stated that the cloudiness and high turbidity are due to a lime slurry that is used as a treatment in the water.

As the number of boil water notices issued this year alone continues to climb, discussions on how to resolve the issues at the plant have circulated among both state and city officials.

Senator John Horhn, D-Jackson, explained that although the possibility of the state taking over the capitol city’s water treatment facility was debated during the last legislative session, the idea was ultimately turned down because of liability.

“I think that the city has sufficiently demonstrated that it doesn’t have the capacity to get this job done and, you know, we need an expert partner to come to the scene,” Horhn said. “What I would prefer is a lease arrangement. I don’t think that we ought to sell the city’s water-sewer administration off, but I do think that we need an expert partner who’s got the expertise and the financing to be able to fix this problem.”

On top of the legal responsibility that comes with taking over the plant, questions were raised on the mounting costs that would be required to make repairs.

Horhn stated that even with the state’s leftover $400 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, it would not be able to cover the $1.2 billion minimum needed to fix the facility alone, not including the issues with billing or the drinking water.

“We’re talking about $1.2 billion at a minimum just on the wastewater problem, not to mention what’s going on with the drinking water, and not to mention what’s going on with billing and collections,” Horhn added. “The state, as I said back in the Spring, came close to considering that, but the same law firm that sued Flint, Michigan is now suing  the city of Jackson. Does the state get that liability?

According to Horhn, the city of Jackson received $47 million in ARPA funding and Hinds County obtained $43 million, but he has no idea where the money went. The city initially pledged to allocate $25 million of the funds to the water treatment facility, but it never came to fruition.

While Horhn is critical of the current mayor’s decision making process as it relates to the water crisis, he believes that the issue is a generational one that stems from 25 years worth of bad decisions made by the city’s various leaders.

“It’s a great embarrassment that, here we are in the 21st century, and our capital city and our state have these kinds of conditions that ratepayers and citizens are having to endure. So, it’s something that desperately needs to be fixed,” Horhn stated. “There have been a series of bad decisions that go back about 25 years. We’ve kicked this can down the road successively for the last generation and now the chickens have come home to roost.”

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