‘The city cannot produce enough water to fight fires, to flush toilets’: Water system in  Jackson, Mississippi, failing, jeopardizing health and safety of 180K people

News & Politics

The capital city of Jackson, Mississippi, is facing a water crisis. Again.

After powerful storms and severe flooding ravaged the area over the weekend, the already unreliable O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant became overwhelmed with water from the Pearl River, leaving residents unable to perform even the most basic daily functions.

At an emergency conference on Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) warned Jackson residents not to use the water for showering or even brushing their teeth.

“Until [the water crisis] is fixed, we do not have reliable running water at scale,” Reeves said. “The city cannot produce enough water to fight fires, to flush toilets, and to meet other critical needs. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will take the state’s lead on distributing drinking water and non-drinking water to residents of the City of Jackson.”

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Jackson has already been under a notice to boil water for about a month because of high levels of “turbidity” discovered in the water. Turbidity is not harmful in and of itself, but can “indicate the presence of disease-causing organisms. These organisms include bacteria, viruses, and parasites,” according to a statement from the state Department of Health.

O.B. Curtis, one of two water treatment centers near Jackson, has had issues with infrastructure and proper staffing for years. Though investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the latest plant failure, Reeves noted that the main pumps had been damaged recently, forcing the plant to rely on backups.

Back in 2021, residents learned that leaders at the plant, the city, and the state had also failed to perform routine system maintenance for about 50 years.

“Many of these challenges in [Jackson’s] water system were born over literally 30, 40, 50 years of negligence and ignoring the challenges of the pipes and the system,” Reeves said at the time.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba (D) added that replacing the system would cost more than a billion dollars, money that the city and state likely do not have.

However, to address the current crisis, Reeves promised to hire the necessary personnel to get the plant operating at normal levels and restore clean water to the city.

“We will cash flow the operation, and the City will be responsible for half of the cost of the emergency improvements that we make,” Reeves said. “I want to make something very clear to those operators we have been and will be reaching out to: You will be paid for your work. The state is owning that guarantee.”

While Reeves claimed that the state would provide city residents with water “for an unknown period of time,” experts hope that water treatment levels will regulate within 10 days.

Reeves did not invite Mayor Lumumba to attend the emergency press conference, and the two have not spoken directly about the current water crisis, according to the Mississippi Free Press.

H/T: Michigan Capitol Confidential

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