Jackson's federally appointed water manager may take over sewer system

A federal appointee managing Jackson, Mississippi's water system after it partially failed in August could take over the sewer system as well.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.
(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A federal appointee is managing the water system in Mississippi’s capital city, and the same might soon be true for the city's sewer system.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate said at a Tuesday hearing that he plans on placing Jackson's sewer system under the authority of Ted Henifin, who was appointed in November to address the city's water troubles. The water system partially failed in August, and for days people had to wait in line for water to drink, bathe, cook and flush toilets.

The sewer system has also been beset by problems for years. The city agreed to enter a consent decree in 2012 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to prevent the overflow of raw sewage and bring the city into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Reports required by the consent decree showed that 4.7 billion gallons of untreated or partially treated wastewater were dumped into the Pearl River between March 2020 and February 2022.

"Every day that goes by, we run the risk of escalating our problem," Wingate said at the Tuesday hearing.

The federal judge ordered attorneys to write an order that would combine the city’s sewer consent decree with its federal order that resulted in Henifin's appointment, WLBT-TV reported. Wingate requested that attorneys finish the draft in two weeks.

Henifin said if he were to manage the sewer system, he would contract out most of the repair work, just as he does with the water system.

"I don’t have time to train staff, buy equipment," Henifin said. "This is the best we can do to make this happen fast.”

Henifin has said he hopes to wrap up his work as interim water system manager in one year or less. The federal order under which he was appointed sets 12 months for Henifin to implement 13 projects for improving the system’s near-term stability.

City Attorney Catoria Martin told Wingate it would take one to three years to fix more than 250 sewer overflows.

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