Officials say great progress has been made to restart the system, but it is unclear when drinking water will be available again to Jackson’s approximately 150,000 residents.
Until then, households and businesses will have to buy water or rely on an inefficient system of receiving bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth.
Governor Tate Reeves said this week that the main pump at Jackson’s main OB Curtis water treatment plant was severely damaged around late July, forcing it to run on a smaller backup pump, but city officials Neither has provided details.
The city announced on August 9 that the problematic pump had been shut down.
Then last week, the governor was warned that Jackson would soon fail to produce running water, Reeves said.
Then came the flood. Heavy rains last week flooded the Pearl River, peaking Monday and flooding parts of Jackson streets. It also affected the intake of reservoirs that feed drinking water treatment plants.
Jim Craig, senior lieutenant and director of health protection for the Mississippi Department of Health, said Wednesday that a chemical imbalance had developed on the conventional processing side of the plant.
He said it affected particulate removal and caused one side of the plant to temporarily shut down and lose distribution pressure.
Staffing issues further compound the problem, officials said.
what do i need to do to fix it
Temporarily rented pumps were installed at the factory on Wednesday, and by Thursday they were making a “substantial” profit, the city said, while workers undertook a “series of repairs and equipment adjustments.”
Other pumps and motors still have a lot of work to do, Craig said, noting that an unacceptable amount of sludge is accumulating in the reservoir.
Even as workers work to restore water supplies, there’s another long-term problem they’re grappling with. It’s water quality.
Contractors also had an evaluation Thursday, with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the scene, according to city updates.
CNN learned that FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell headed to Jackson on Friday. President Joe Biden endorsed Jackson’s state of emergency declaration, allowing Mississippi to draw on critical resources to respond to the crisis, Reeves said.
How people are coping without running water
Residents are understandably angry and frustrated, with no water to drink, no water to brush their teeth, and in many cases even the ability to flush toilets.
This week we queued for hours for bottled water, only to be turned down when supplies ran out.
86-year-old Geraldine Watts stood in line for two miles, she told CNN.
Watts, who was born and raised in Jackson and lives with her daughter and granddaughter, said she has to use bottled or boiled water for everything, including brushing her teeth, cooking, and washing dishes.
Some residents were collecting rainwater, flushing toilets and brushing their teeth, they told CNN’s Ryan Young.
“We pay water bills all the time and can’t use the water,” said Jackson resident Corian Wheeler. “We feel like we live in a third world country called America. It’s kind of bad.”
The University of Mississippi Medical Center said Tuesday that the school switched to virtual learning on Tuesday and that the medical center had no air conditioning because it lacked water pressure to supply the chillers.
The governor declared a state of emergency and the National Guard was deployed to assist with water distribution. On Thursday, the state opened seven distribution sites in addition to the one run by the city.
Residents whose faucets had discolored water were told to use them only for showering and washing hands, not for drinking or cooking.
“Make sure your mouth is closed when you shower,” Craig told residents.
Problems with the city’s water system go back several years
Unreliable water supplies are nothing new to the citizens of Jackson. In early 2020, the city’s water system failed an Environmental Protection Agency inspection, revealing drinking water can host harmful bacteria and parasites.
Staffing at the factory was also an issue, according to Reeves and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.
Rep. Ronnie Crudup Jr. of Jackson, Mississippi, told CNN this week:
The EPA and the city reached an agreement last year to “address long-term challenges and make necessary improvements to drinking water systems.” And the agency recently announced $74.9 million in funding for federal water and sewage infrastructure in Mississippi, but the mayor said he needed $2 billion for that work.
Cities like Jackson suffer from a “benevolence of goodwill” by those in power, Katherine Coleman Flowers, founder of the Center for Local Business and Environmental Justice, told CNN in April. If it is a marginalized or a community of color, I am concerned that the community in need of help is just another symbol of what I call one of the unhelped relatives of the Coalition.
CNN’s Nouran Salahieh, Jason Hanna, Amir Vera, Amy Simonson, Melissa Alonso, Amara Walker, Amanda Musa, Maria Cartaya, Sara Smart Carol Alvarado, Peter Nickeas and Isabel Rosales contributed to this report.