Jackson, Mississippi, takes step forward in addressing water crisis

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Jackson, Mississippi, is taking steps forward in finding a solution to the city’s water crisis.

Decades of issues with the city’s water system came to a head in August, when historic flooding damaged a major pump at the main water treatment facility in Jackson, leaving around 150,000 of the city’s mostly Black residents without drinkable water.

PHOTO: In this Aug. 31, 2022, file photo, Seresa McCaskill cleans and refills buckets of water in her front yard in South Jackson, Miss.

In this Aug. 31, 2022, file photo, Seresa McCaskill cleans and refills buckets of water in her front yard in South Jackson, Miss.

The Washington Post via Getty Images, FILE

In the weeks since, city officials, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice have been working on reaching a “judicially enforceable solution” to “deliver safe and reliable drinking water for the people of Jackson,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said during an update earlier this week.

“We are moving with a sense of urgency,” Regan said.

On Thursday, the Jackson City Council approved an interim agreement with the EPA that outlines steps the city must take to comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The vote, held during a special session, was “the last step that the city will need to take in order to protect its interests so that we can I think achieve a goal that we all want to achieve, which is safe drinking water,” Jackson city attorney Catoria Martin said before the council members discussed the confidential agreement in a closed session.

PHOTO: In this Sept. 4, 2022, file photo, members of Progressive Morningstar Baptist Church direct people to get bottled water following a Sunday morning service in Jackson, Miss.

In this Sept. 4, 2022, file photo, members of Progressive Morningstar Baptist Church direct people to get bottled water following a Sunday morning service in Jackson, Miss.

Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

The agreement must next be signed by Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba before the Justice Department can file a case in federal court and ask the court to approve the proposed path forward, according to the EPA.

On Friday, a spokesperson for Lumumba told ABC News the mayor “fully plans to sign it if he hasn’t already.”

Once approved, the settlement agreement will be overseen by a federal court to enforce the provisions.

“We are encouraged by the Jackson City Council’s decision to approve the interim stipulated order, which is a critical step toward delivering a sustainable water system for Jackson residents,” Maria Michalos, a spokesperson for the EPA, said in a statement. “The people of Jackson deserve access to safe and reliable water, now and in the future. EPA looks forward to working across all levels of government to make that a reality.”

The agreement has not yet been made public. Martin said during Thursday’s city council meeting that they were still researching when and how they could disclose it.

Before their vote, the council members approved several items related to the agreement, including authorizing the mayor to apply for a grant to help fund its implementation and the city to hire an attorney to consult on it.