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White House announces $115 million for water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi

The funding is among $600 million approved in December to address chronic issues with the often-failing system.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Nearly a year after chronic problems with the water system in Jackson, Mississippi, received national attention, the White House on Tuesday announced the allocation of $115 million in the first set of promised funding. 

Lawmakers approved $600 million total in December for the city of about 150,000 people.

“For years, the people of Jackson, Mississippi, have suffered the consequences of aging water infrastructure,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday. “All Americans deserve access to clean, safe drinking water.”

Jackson's system has long faced citations from the Environmental Protection Agency, but its chronic shortcomings turned acute last summer when extreme flooding caused the city’s main water treatment plant to fail. Freezing temperatures in December again caused a loss of water pressure and came with a boil water notice. 

Since November, the system has been run by a federally appointed third-party manager. It struggles with funding because 44% of bills go unpaid and numerous leaks require officials to produce more water than should be needed, according to The Clarion-Ledger

Jackson plans to use the funding committed on Tuesday to identify and address leaks in the distribution system, assess valves and hydrants, ensure adequate pumping capacity, and develop a stabilization and sustainability plan.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba called the money vital because it “has been denied to us for so long.”

“These funds will help provide relief to Jackson residents, who have suffered decades of water insecurity,” Lumumba said in a press release. “This aid helps to restore dignity to our city.”

U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, whose congressional district includes the city, praised the Biden administration for its commitment to the state.

"This is an incredible milestone towards ensuring access to safe drinking water for the Jackson, Mississippi, community," the Democratic Thompson said in a press release. 

On the other side of the aisle, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker said the money will give the city the necessary resources “to begin addressing many of the longstanding challenges with its water supply and help guard against future emergencies."

"This is great news for the city of Jackson and our state," the Republican said in a press release. "Last year’s prolonged water crisis showed us the urgent need for drinking water infrastructure improvements, and I was glad to work with members of the Mississippi congressional delegation to secure emergency funding to help.”

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