Skyrocketing bills the latest concern in Jackson water crisis

(JACKSON, Miss) — The city of Jackson, Mississippi, has grappled with crisis after crisis in recent years with the reliability of the city’s water infrastructure, and residents say they are experiencing the brunt of the burden — this time with their wallets.

Jackson residents have been reporting irregularly high water bills, with multiple households telling ABC Jackson affiliate WAPT that their bills are doubling, even quadrupling, in any given month.

Officials are aiming to establish a rate structure that enables the utility to run solely on local revenue sources and no longer require assistance from the federal government, Ted Henifin, the Department of Justice-appointed interim manager of the Jackson Water System, told community members during a town hall on Tuesday.

Rate setting in the U.S. is a challenge because utility companies around the country don’t necessarily “charge what water’s worth,” rather setting prices for what is affordable for the lower 20% of socioeconomic demographics, Henifin said, adding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers a household “stressed” if it is spending more than 4.5% of its income on its water and sewer bill.

Henifin stressed that the cost is not only for the water itself but for the chemicals to treat the water and the energy to transport it, as well as the working infrastructure to accomplish those steps.

In addition, there will be some politics to navigate over the municipal authority that will oversee the restored water system, Henifin said.

Problems with water systems in Jackson — boil water notices, water shortages and infrastructure problems — have persisted in the city for decades.

Recent years have proved even more difficult.

In March 2021, back-to-back winter storms wreaked havoc on the city’s water system, leaving much of the city under a boil water alert and some without running water at all.

Historic flooding in the state in September caused river flooding that created problems with water pressure at long-failing treatment systems, and freezing temperatures in December inundated the city’s water system even more.

“Our facilities weren’t built for that,” Henifin told ABC News last month of the infrastructure’s ability to withstand extreme weather events.

The compounding issues are affecting residents throughout the city, from lack of water pressure in schools to water being knocked out in nearly every strong storm.

The failing water system is the result of “decades of neglect,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told ABC News last month.

Despite an uphill battle to fortify the city’s water systems, Lumumba is confident that a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for the crisis is near, especially with more than $800 million in federal support.

Those changes won’t happen overnight, the mayor said, describing efforts that include first ensuring the availability of water and then providing filters to build confidence on the water quality while repairs on the infrastructure are taking place.

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