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Jackson seeking $35.6M from state infrastructure program to help fund water and sewer projects - Energy And Water Development Corp

Jackson seeking $35.6M from state infrastructure program to help fund water and sewer projects

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Jackson’s application for state ARPA funds shows the city would use the additional money to target raw water pumps at its main water treatment plant, as well as a sewer transmission line that is a major source of its sanitary sewer overflows.

Last week, the city submitted its application for funding to the Mississippi Municipality and County Water Infrastructure Grant Program (MCWI).

The city is seeking more than $35.6 million in matching funds to address priority water and sewer needs, including $1,650,000 to replace aging raw water pumps at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, and $7,500,000 to repair the West Bank Interceptor.

MCWI was established by the Mississippi Legislature earlier this year to provide local governments with matching funds to make repairs to water, sewer, and drainage infrastructure. Under terms of the program, cities and counties can receive a dollar-for-dollar match for all eligible projects they fund using American Rescue Plan Act Dollars. Lawmakers set aside $450 million of the state’s ARPA money to fund the work.

The deadline to apply for the first round of funding was September 30. In all, 429 cities and counties are seeking a combined $434.7 million. However, less than half of those applications will be approved, with the legislature mandating that just 40 percent of the $450 million be awarded in the first round.

The Curtis plant is Jackson’s main treatment facility that serves approximately 43,000 connections. The city hopes to replace two of the water pumps there that went down this summer, prior to the city’s water crisis.

“The ability to reliably bring in reservoir water for treatment is a necessary investment,” the city’s application states. “Without it, residents of the surface water system, and major industries such as Nissan may… experience sudden pressure loss and water outages… which happened in early August 2022, prior to the Pearl River Flood that resulted in the current water system emergency.”

After the pumps went down, the city brought in backup devices to keep water coming into the facility. Those went down around the time of the Pearl River Flood, impacting water service for tens of thousands of customers.

The state stepped in to help stabilize the facility, an effort that included repairing failed pumps. But even with those repairs, Jackson’s application says the devices need to be retired. “Given the age of the equipment and lack of system redundancy at the plant… the pumps must be replaced to [ensure] steady water supply,” the application states.

City seeking funding to replace the raw water pumps at O.B. Curtis.
City seeking funding to replace the raw water pumps at O.B. Curtis.(WLBT)

The Curtis plant was constructed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was expanded in the early 2000s. The pumps targeted for replacement have been in place since the facility was built.

Several engineers that spoke to WLBT said the pumps have likely outlived their expected lifespans, which is between 20 and 30 years with general maintenance.

Jackson also is asking for $8,800,000 to rehab filters on the Curtis plant’s conventional and membrane filtration sides, $1,450,000 to convert manual chemical feeds to automated ones at both treatment plants, $8,798,000 to replace filters and finish construction of a 48-inch water transmission line at Fewell, and $2,750,000 to repair and rehab aged pumps at Fewell.

Fewell, which is located in the waterworks curve, is the city’s backup treatment facility, which is authorized to treat up to 20 million gallons of water a day. The plant was allowed to treat up to 30 million gallons a day during the water crisis.

However, pumps at that facility also appear to be on their last legs.

City documents show an inspection of pumps there in September 2022 revealed that one was ruled out for future use “due to mechanical and structural problems, while the other needed repairs or would wear out within a couple of years.”

Meanwhile, the “four smaller pumps appear to be original equipment from the 1940s, save for a couple of parts.”

“In order to extend the life of J.H. Fewell, the raw water intake pumps need to be replaced,” the city’s application states.

Jackson is also asking for $7.5 million to make additional repairs along the West Bank Interceptor, a major sewer collection main that runs along the west bank of the Pearl River from Northeast Jackson to the Savanna Street Wastewater Treatment Plant, and $4,681,520 to repair a broken main under N. Mill Street.

Sewer Pump at Mill Street.
Sewer Pump at Mill Street.(Pearl Riverkeeper)

WLBT reported that between April 1 and June 30 of this year, nearly 20 million gallons of untreated wastewater were released into the environment due to the main break and sewer pump failure at Mill Street, a major violation of the city’s sewer consent decree.

As for the West Bank Interceptor, the line “has a number of locations that are in need of rehab” to reduce inflow from the Pearl River. A number of manholes also need to be raised and waterproofed, also to prevent infiltration when river levels rise to flood stage.

Council President Ashby Foote says that even if the city’s requests are approved, Jackson will have to maintain the repairs/replacements once work is complete.

“I think at the end of the day, you go back to early July, the EPA was more worried about personnel than it was money,” he said. “So, it’s a combination. We can’t forget about the human capital that is critical to having successful enterprises.”

Documents obtained by WLBT showed that staffing shortages threatened to shut down the city’s treatment plants and led to employees having to work hundreds of extra hours overtime in short periods of time.

EPA officials said a lack of staffing likely contributed to the numerous Safe Drinking Water Violations reported by the city in recent years, including the 2021 winter water crisis and numerous water quality issues.

Jackson’s MCWI application shows the city is working with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to bring on a third-party firm to take over operations at both treatment plants.

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