Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba answers questions from the media after addressing the city's water issues, and an EPA notice of non-compliance filed against the city, during a press conference at City Hall, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said at a Monday press conference that he was “pushing back” against a notice of non-compliance the Environmental Protection Agency sent the city last week, citing delays in the supply chain for needed parts at the water treatment facility.

Last week, the EPA told Jackson that it had fallen behind state health department requirements by not repairing an electrical panel at the O.B. Curtis water treatment plant. The panel broke during a fire at the plant last spring, taking pumps out of operation and reducing water pressure for parts of the city.

In a December letter to the city, the Mississippi State Department of Health alerted officials that it had 30 days to provide a plan for correcting the issue, and 120 days to fix it. The EPA notice stated that Jackson missed the first deadline, which was Jan. 14.

Lumumba said the city had ordered the parts to fix the panel, but widespread supply chain issues are delaying the order.

“I agree with the EPA’s overall approach to environmental justice, and one that looks to bring resources to cities that are tasked with these challenges,” Lumumba said. “But with that being said, I want to be clear, the City of Jackson is actually pushing back on the latest letter of non-compliance.

“Like everything in the distribution chain in our world, we are waiting on the parts. So Jackson is not in a position in order to fix a panel without the parts that are provided by a sole source.”

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba (left) listens as City Engineer Charles Williams answers questions from the media regarding the city’s water issues during a press conference at City Hall, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

MSDH’s set deadline for fixing the panel is April 14, which City Engineer Charles Williams said he doesn’t expect Jackson to meet. He said the city ordered the parts on Jan. 13, and expects them to arrive around April 22.

When a WAPT reporter asked why the city waited so long to order the part, Williams declined to go into further detail, saying instead the city has followed protocol.

Lumumba added that the delay “shouldn’t be a surprise” given the city’s communication with the vendor, General Electric, and the EPA. He also said despite the disagreement, he’s generally aligned with the federal agency’s approach and that they communicate every other week.

Williams also touched on the city’s ongoing distribution troubles, as south Jackson is still receiving low water pressure. Despite making progress at the end of last week, Williams said the city had to cut back how much water it sent out after noticing turbidity, meaning that there isn’t enough water in the city’s storage tanks to restore pressure. He expects to see progress during the week, but didn’t provide an exact timeline.

He also added that he expects to have all six of O.B. Curtis’ membrane trains running within the next two weeks. The city took one of the trains offline two weeks ago after it failed an integrity test from MSDH.

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on NBC.com. In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.