The US justice department has taken drastic action regarding the crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, that has affected drinking water for its 150,000 residents for several months.
On Tuesday, the city of Jackson and the Mississippi health department signed an order agreeing to federal oversight of the failing water system, in an attempt to restore clean and safe drinking water.
The justice department filed a complaint on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against the city, for failing to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In a statement, the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, said he was “taking action in federal court to address longstanding failures in the city of Jackson’s public drinking water system.
“The Department of Justice takes seriously its responsibility to keep the American people safe and to protect their civil rights. Together with our partners at EPA, we will continue to seek justice for the residents of Jackson, Mississippi. And we will continue to prioritize cases in the communities most burdened by environmental harm.”
Several boil water notices have been issued to neighborhoods across Jackson, thanks to aging infrastructure and severe weather.
In August, the situation worsened after heavy flooding and power outages at well water facilities resulted in a water shortage.
In September, Derrick Johnson, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) rang the alarm about racial inequity exacerbated by the water crisis, which predominantly affected Black residents.
Johnson said: “Somehow, in the year 2022, equality and justice remain out of reach for Black communities across America.
“The disparities facing our community are stark – just look at the catastrophe unfolding in my home town of Jackson, Mississippi. More than 100,000 people, the majority of whom are Black, are without safe access to drinking water for the foreseeable future.”
Johnson called the crisis a “direct result of the failures of politicians”.
City officials implemented months-long emergency distribution of bottled water.
In a statement to the Guardian on Wednesday, the mayor of Jackson, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, said the city was “pleased we have finally reached an agreement that represents a critical next step in our efforts to provide immediate and long-term solutions for Jackson’s water issues”.
Lumumba also said his city government would work with an appointed administrator to “make smart choices for the city’s drinking water system and ensure that we can provide safe, clean and sustainable drinking water for all”.