Water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi: situation remains dire for residents as efforts to restore supplies face setbacks

Water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi: situation remains dire for residents as efforts to restore supplies face setbacks

Water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi: situation remains dire for residents as efforts to restore supplies face setbacks

Efforts to restore supplies were met with a setback Friday when a chemical imbalance and reduced water pressure were detected.

“It’s like repairing the plane while you’re still flying. You have to be very careful how you fix it so you keep flying,” Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection at Mississippi’s health department, said at a news conference Friday night. .

“It’s the same when we’re trying to produce water. All that demand for water has to continue and every time we have to do some maintenance, we have to compensate for some of that,” explains Craig.

The city of about 150,000 had had a report of boiling water since July 30 — then flooding caused by heavy rainfall last weekend led to a chemical imbalance at the OB Curtis Water Treatment Plant.
Since then, the lives of the residents of Jackson have been turned upside down, forcing them to wait in long lines under a blazing sun in blistering heat for bottled water to drink, cook or brush their teeth with. It has also closed schools.

“We’re constantly paying water bills and we can’t use the water,” said Jackson resident Corean Wheeler. “We feel like we’re living in a third world country in America, and that’s pretty bad.”

But progress has been made, according to state and local officials.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba pointed to “two consecutive days of gains” during a press conference on Friday, while also acknowledging that “not all residents have pressure or water.”

“The team is working 24/7 to make sure those gains are established or maintained,” he said.

On Friday morning, Craig noted that the treatment plant was pumping water at 85 PSI, which is a unit known as pounds per square inch that measures pressure. But that was reduced to 77.2 PSI later in the day, he said.

The reduction means areas further from the plant and at higher elevations may still experience low to no water pressure, according to a city press release. The goal is to get pressure levels to 87 PSI, the city said.

Members of the Mississippi National Guard are distributing water and supplies to residents of Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi, on Friday.

Increased water pressure can lead to pipe breaks, mayor warns

As crews work to increase water pressure, Lumumba warned that another infrastructure problem could be on the horizon.

“Because they are able to increase the pressure in the plant to levels that it has not seen in many years, the challenge then becomes whether we have pipes ripping through the city,” he said. “We know we have brittle pipes, we have obsolete pipes just like our water treatment plants are obsolete.”

It's been 5 days without reliable tap water for Jackson, Mississippi.  Here's what we know about the latest repairs - and how people are interacting with them

In early 2020, the water system failed an Environmental Protection Agency inspection, which found that the drinking water had the potential to harbor harmful bacteria or parasites.

Residents were also without water for a month when pipes froze and burst during a winter storm in 2021.

The problems are largely systemic — old and leaky pipes, sewage plant failures and insufficient funds to solve the problems, according to a report from the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting published by the Clarion Ledger in January.

In July 2021, the EPA and the city signed an agreement to “address long-term challenges and make necessary improvements to the drinking water system.” The EPA also recently announced $74.9 million in federal water and sewage infrastructure funds for Mississippi.

Proponents have previously pointed to systemic and environmental racism as one of the causes of Jackson’s ongoing water problems and lack of resources to address them. About 82.5% of Jackson’s population identifies as black or African American, according to census data, while the state legislature is predominantly white.

Staffing at the factory has also been a problem, officials said.

EPA personnel found that the water department of the city of Jackson, Mississippi was understaffed, leading to gaps in routine and preventive maintenance, the report said.

Six of the 11 water tanks have reached stable levels and the rest are in the process of improving their level, the city noted in a press release.

Meanwhile, officials are still urging residents to boil their water.

For Jackson to reach a clean water benchmark, the state’s health department must test 120 water samples from various locations over a two-day period, and all samples must provide clean results, the governor said.

“I can promise you today that we will continue to advise Jacksonians to boil their water until we get to the point,” Governor Tate Reeves said.

He also added that seven state-run water distribution sites distributed nearly 2.8 million bottles of water in less than 24 hours on Thursday.

President Joe Biden also approved an emergency declaration for Jackson, and it will allow Mississippi to tap critical resources to respond to the crisis, Reeves said.

Jamiel Lynch, Raja Razek, Theresa Waldrop, Nouran Salahieh, Jason Hanna and Amir Vera of CNN contributed to this report.

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