EPA emails reveal continued city violations
The first of a dossier released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows a diagram of officials from the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) citing repeated violations of the system of Jackson City water supply and city officials asking for more time to comply.
The city and the EPA reached an agreement in June that will allow the city to bring its drinking water system back into compliance with regulations. The cost will be huge, with $ 70 million needed to fix the discrepancies at the two treatment plants and $ 100 million to fix problems with the city’s water distribution system.
The records were obtained by the Northside Sun and show that state and federal authorities have tried to ensure the city’s compliance with state and federal drinking water standards.
Key events detailed in written and electronic correspondence between city officials, EPA and MSDH are presented here in chronological order.
MSDH official William Moody told the EPA in an email on June 13, 2019 after a meeting with city officials that the city had requested permission to extend lead standards compliance deadlines and copper in drinking water standards as of September 17, 2019 for Curtis and December. 29, 2020 for Fewell.
City officials told the EPA and MSDH on September 17, 2019 that the installation of a designed soda ash system was 90 percent complete. The installation was required as part of an MSDH compliance plan published on February 12, 2016. The work was to be completed and operators trained in its use by November 2019.
EPA official Amanda Driskell emailed MSDH to inform them of a pending information request she made to the city regarding the lead and copper content in the water of the city on November 15, 2019.
MSDH sent the city a letter (which it also forwarded to the EPA) on December 18, 2019 advising them of construction delays and the amendment to halt improvements to the processing plant. JH Fewell so that she could use existing treatment components to get the city to meet the standards for lead and copper in drinking water would put the city in violation.
On January 16, 2020, the EPA and MSDH informed the city of a site inspection of the city’s two treatment plants, OB Curtis (treats water from the Ross Barnett Reservoir) and the other, JH Fewell ( treats the water of the Pearl River).
An inspection by the MSDH and EPA on February 3, 2020 found many discrepancies, including turbidity (the measure of the degree to which water loses transparency due to dissolved solids), disinfection issues with lights ultraviolet light and a lack of proper storage of disinfectant chemicals and the condition of the distribution network, plagued by numerous leaks and ruptures.
The MSDH later informed the EPA of the continued violations of the city of Jackson’s drinking water standards on February 28, 2020.
On March 6, 2020, the MSDH sent Jackson City Engineer and Director of Public Works Charles Williams a list of requirements for monthly and weekly water system operating reports to be submitted to the state agency.
On March 18, 2020, the city and officials from the Ministry of Health were on a conference call. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has expressed the city’s desire to work with the state to meet compliance.
Williams said communication with the city should be via email due to all staff involved being overloaded and he will only call in an emergency.
MSDH official Amy McLeod said covers for the membrane assemblies have been on hold for five years and continually cited in inspection reports. She also said issues with the Claritrac system forced operators to drain the ponds every five to seven days due to mud levels over 10 feet that had settled out of the water. She also said the operators needed more training and were running chemical feeds at extremely high and low levels, which she said was unacceptable.
She also said the soda ash system had to be put aside as the pH level rose to dangerous levels, at least until a dilution system was installed and functioning.
A constant demerit in state inspection reports – a lack of qualified personnel at both processing plants – is at least being addressed
The city advertises two operators for the Fewell plant and two positions at Curtis: an instrument technician and a plant operations supervisor. Earlier this summer, the city advertised three operator positions at Fewell and two instrumentation technician positions. Both positions are critical as instrumentation technicians maintain the instruments that control the filtration process while operators control and monitor the treatment process, take samples and make adjustments as needed.