Jackson’s troubled water system failed in late August, leaving about 250,000 people served by the system with little or no water pressure for several days.
Though pressure has been restored city-wide, the drinking water supply is still not safe to drink. Meanwhile, the city has been under a federal consent decree since 2013 because of its failing and unsafe sewer system.
With state and federal leaders at the table discussing long-term solutions for Jackson’s water and wastewater systems, many are first trying to determine the full extent of the problems.
Each year, the city of Jackson is required to file financial reports to its bond debt holders. These reports contain a great deal of information about the state of the systems.
Jackson’s water and sewer debt is rated as “junk bond,” and the city, along with Newark, N.J., is one of very few large municipal systems not rated as investment grade debt. The city has about $191 million in revenue bond debt outstanding.
The city made its financial reports for debt holders last year, with data through Sept. 30, 2020, but is behind on filing this year.
Some highlights of the reports:
The city water system covers about 150 square miles and serves a population of about 250,000 people in Jackson, Byram and other parts of Hinds County. The city also supplies water to the Nissan Plant and its suppliers near Canton through a contract with the state.
The city operates three wastewater treatment plants and provides sewer services to Jackson, as well as to parts of Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties.
In 1973, the Jackson Metropolitan Regional Water Quality Management Plan was adopted for Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties. Jackson has a contract with the city of Ridgeland for sewerage, with Ridgeland having contracts with other entities in Madison County for sewage treatment.
After many years of Jackson treating western Rankin County’s sewage, the West Rankin Utility Authority has built its own new plant to serve Brandon, Flowood, Pearl, Richland, the Jackson Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport, the state hospital and other areas. This will mean a loss of up to $3 million to $4 million a year for the Jackson sewer system.
Water and sewer customers
(Year: water customers/sewer customers)
- 2016: 51,884/43,820
- 2017: 57,183/48,430
- 2018: 53,733/47,706
- 2019: 54,063/47,987
- 2020: 55,079/46,609
Largest water customers
(As of Sept. 30, 2020)
- Premium Water (water bottling plant in Byram)
- Jackson Public Schools
- Double G Coating, Inc.
- Griffin Industries
- City of Jackson Zoological Park
- Merit Health (former Hinds General Hospital)
- Entergy Mississippi
- City of Jackson Wastewater
- Century Pacific
- Autumn Trace GN LLC
Water customers outside of city
(As of 2020)
About 11% of Jackson’s water customers are outside its city limits.
- Outside city limits (within 1 mile): 2,050
- Outside (beyond a mile): 4,070
Businesses/institutions with their own water wells
(As of 2020)
- Baptist Health Systems
- Conceptual Designs Inc.
- EP Engineered Clays Corporation
- Jackson Country Club
- University of Mississippi Medical Center
- Tougaloo College
- St. Dominic Hospital
- McCarty Farms
- Veterans Administration
- MS Material Co.
- Premium Water plant
Sources of water
Jackson has two main sources of water for the system: the O.B. Curtis surface water treatment plant that draws from the Ross Barnett Reservoir, completed in 1993, and the Fewell Plant, originally built in 1914 and most recently upgraded with a $12.4 million project in 2008, which draws water from the Pearl River.
The city also has two ground water well systems. In 2014, with the completion of the Maddox Road Booster Station, all city customers began receiving drinking water from surface treatment (from the reservoir and river). But due to an emergency with pressure loss in 2015, the ground water system was reactivated and remains in use.
Repairs and upgrades
In 1997, the city commissioned a water and wastewater master plan, according to disclosures the city must make to water system bond holders. It called for $375 million in capital improvements to the system by 2012. This included $180 million for the water system and and $195 million for wastewater.
Since then, through 2021, the city has completed or begun projects totaling $148 million for water and $76 million for wastewater.
In March 2013, the city entered into a consent decree with the EPA and MDEQ on its wastewater, which requires upgrades originally estimated to cost $400 million over 17.5 years. In 2013, the cost was estimated at $800 million. Last year, city and state officials said the consent decree capital costs for the sewer system are estimated at $945 million.
Fines, fees and reprimands
Jackson’s troubled water and sewerage system has faced litigation, consent decrees, fines and reprimands from various regulatory and other entities.
In 2010, after violating environmental regulations for its Savanna Street Wastewater Plant, the city paid a civil penalty of $240,000 in four installments of $60,000 and pledged to make improvements. In 2012, the city paid a fine of $22,500 for sewage violations from its Presidential Hills plant.
In 2013, the city and EPA entered a consent decree in federal court over violations of the Clean Water Act and state pollution control laws. The city has paid a civil penalty of nearly $438,000 and agreed to make improvements, only a portion of which have been done.
A separate report recently commissioned by the federal EPA said the city water system’s finances are a shambles, and the city was unable to provide a complete list of customers when inspectors visited, and explained that some customers receive no bills, while others receive large bills. The city could not calculate its collection rate, and said this issue isn’t expected to be resolved until late 2024. This report said malfunctioning water meters have contributed to a 32-percent decrease in revenue and about 50% of the water put out is “non-revenue,” and that it is unclear how much is due to meter issues or water loss.