DOJ sues Jackson, Miss. over alleged water safety violations

The Department of Justice brought a lawsuit against the city of Jackson, Mississippi, over its alleged failure to provide drinking water compliant with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) after multiple raw water intake pumps failed at a treatment plant on Aug. 29. According to the complaint filed in federal court on Tuesday, the failure resulted in “a catastrophic loss of pressure in the distribution system” that meant “many residents had no running water and thus lost the ability to use water for basic safety and hygiene purposes[.]”

As a result of this, the complaint says residents had to use bottled water and “other alternative water sources” from government agencies and elsewhere. Service resumed on Sept. 6, but the effects remain ongoing, the DOJ said.

“Even beyond this event and continuing through the present,” the complaint says, “contaminants are in or are likely to enter the City’s public water system that may present an imminent and substantial endangerment within the meaning of the SDWA. The City has also violated various specific requirements of the SDWA and administrative orders issued by EPA concerning the City’s public water system.”

The lawsuit explained how contaminants would get into a water system that does not have sufficient water pressure.


Clouds are reflected on the City of Jackson’s O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Facility’s sedimentation basins in Ridgeland, Mississippi, Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. Jackson’s water system partially failed following flooding and heavy rainfall that exacerbated longstanding problems in one of two water-treatment plants. 
(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, Pool)

“When inadequate or low water pressure is present in the System, negative pressure may pull water from outside a distribution line to inside the distribution line through cracks, breaks, or joints in the distribution lines that are common in all drinking water systems,” the complaint says. “This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as “back siphonage.” Back siphonage can introduce contaminants into treated, potable water inside the lines downstream of the water treatment plant, before the water is delivered to users.”

Fox News reached out to Jackson’s mayor’s office for comment on the lawsuit, but they did not immediately respond.

Water donation sites give residents bottled water for consumption.

Water donation sites give residents bottled water for consumption.
(Joy Addison/Fox News)

While the pump failure occurred in August 2022, Jackson has had problems with its water system since at least February 2020, when the EPA began its inspection and issued an Emergency Administrative Order that said the water system’s conditions “presented an imminent and substantial endangerment” to residents that included the possibility of contaminants including E. Coli. Since then, federal, state, and city officials have been taking steps to address the situation, which has since been affected by weather conditions and an electrical fire at one of the plants in April 2021.


Firefighters and recruits for the Jackson, Mississippi, Fire Department carry cases of bottled water to residents vehicles, Aug. 18, 2022, as part of the city's response to longstanding water system problems.

Firefighters and recruits for the Jackson, Mississippi, Fire Department carry cases of bottled water to residents vehicles, Aug. 18, 2022, as part of the city’s response to longstanding water system problems.
(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The complaint notes that the city has been taking emergency measures but claims that the response does not “address all of the repairs and rehabilitation needed for the distribution system” and “is not designed to address the City’s financial and technical capacity shortfalls that have long hindered the City’s ability to operate the System in compliance with the law and in a manner that ensures a reliable source of drinking water for System users.”


The lawsuit, which follows a separate one from residents filed in September, seeks a court order requiring the city to take “corrective measures to protect the health of residents and consumers served by the City’s public drinking water system,” comply with national and state water regulations, and EPA administrative orders. The DOJ also filed a proposal to have an “Interim Third Party Manager” maintain the city’s water system while state and federal officials figure out a long-term plan.

“I pledged that EPA would do everything in its power to ensure the people of Jackson have clean and dependable water, now and into the future,” EPA administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement. “While there is much more work ahead, the Justice Department’s action marks a critical moment on the path to securing clean, safe water for Jackson residents. I’m grateful to the Attorney General for his partnership and commitment to this shared vision.”