The governor of Mississippi declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard after the main water treatment facility in the state capital, Jackson, began to fail, threatening water supplies by up to to 250,000 people and leaving many people without running water.
Tate Reeves announced that a critical water treatment plant in Jackson began to fail Monday night. The announcement made official what thousands of the city’s 160,000 residents already knew: that the water pressure is so low that it’s impossible to perform vital daily tasks such as flushing the toilet. or take showers.
Reeves said the state has begun “preparing for a scenario where Jackson is without running water for an extended period of time…We don’t have reliable running water on a large scale.”
Delbert Hosemann, the Lieutenant Governor, said, “Our understanding is that the water and sewer system serving 250,000 state citizens and many businesses is on the verge of collapse. We are very concerned about the health and safety of citizens.
Since July 29, households have been ordered to boil all water for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth, to prevent bacterial infections. Now the crisis looks set to escalate with the possibility that the main treatment plant, OB Curtis, could fail completely after its central pumps were badly damaged following the recent flooding of the Pearl River, following heavy rains.
Local reports suggested that bottled water was already running out in grocery stores and the low pressure was also hampering firefighting operations. All public schools in Jackson have transitioned to virtual instruction “indefinitely,” as has Jackson State University, at least for the rest of this week.
Jackson State University football coach Deion Sanders said the water crisis has left his players without air conditioning or ice. In a video posted on social media, he said he wanted to move the players to a hotel so they could shower.
The National Guard was called in to distribute water to fire stations, hospitals and private households, although the duration of the rescue mission is uncertain.
Jackson resident Cassandra Welchlin told CNN she had to buy water to support her three children, because brown water was flowing in her house.
“We still wouldn’t use that water, we don’t boil it to do anything with it because there’s sand in the water,” she said.
Jackson’s water crisis is a public safety disaster waiting to happen. A cold snap last year left thousands of people without running water after pipes froze.
The OB Curtis plant has been troubled by long-standing labor shortages. The city’s mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, said water infrastructure had suffered from three decades of chronic underfunding.
Lumumba told CNN, “I’ve said many times that it’s not a question of ‘if’ our system will fail, but a question of ‘when’ our system will fail… We don’t have the funds to face 30 years of neglect.
Maintenance problems have been exacerbated by a half-century of declining resources in Jackson, a consequence of whites fleeing the city following the incorporation of its public schools in 1970. The city’s population, the largest of Mississippi, is now 80%. African American with one in four in the official definition of poverty.
Lumumba said on Tuesday that the cost of setting up the system could reach “most likely billions of dollars”.
Lumumba is a Democrat and was not invited to the Monday evening press conference held by the Republican governor. Although the two politicians are often at odds, Lumumba said Tuesday he was having productive discussions with the Mississippi Health Department and Emergency Management Agency and was grateful for the help of the State.
The White House said it was monitoring the situation in Mississippi closely and that Joe Biden had been briefed. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency, were seeking to expedite the delivery of treatment equipment to shore up Jackson’s failing facilities.
“We will continue to work closely with state and local authorities to support the people of Mississippi, and we stand ready to help further,” Jean-Pierre said.
Jean-Pierre also said the state didn’t ask for help trucking drinking water and declined to say why.
Late Tuesday, Joe Biden approved a request for an emergency declaration, ordering his team to increase federal aid to the region, Jean-Pierre tweeted.
“We are committed to helping the people of Jackson and upstate Mississippi in this time of dire need,” she said.
Sign of the gravity of the crisis, the authorities of Jackson ordered the stop of all drinking water withdrawal of the city. They said they didn’t want to contribute any further to lowering the water pressure.