Jackson, Mississippi, water crisis: Repairs have begun at the sewage treatment plant, but residents still have no clean water

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is optimistic that water will be restored to residents this week, he told CNN on Wednesday. “But there’s a huge mountain to climb to get there,” he added.

A rental pump installed Wednesday at the sewage treatment plant will help add an additional 4 million gallons of water per day to the system, authorities estimate. The state has also contracted outside contractors to begin critical emergency repair work.

“We are removing bad water from the system and making mechanical improvements to prevent an even more catastrophic failure,” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said at a press conference Wednesday.

Jackson is in the midst of a water crisis.  Here's how you can help

But even though fixes are being made, service has fluctuated and the governor warned, “There will be future disruptions…they are not avoidable at this point.”

“Our immediate priority is to have running water, even temporarily sacrificing some quality standards where we absolutely must, to meet basic health and safety needs,” Reeves said, urging residents not to not drink water without boiling it.

“We hope that we will be able to increase the amount of water, which will eventually fill the reservoirs more and eventually lead to a scenario in which we can carry out the appropriate tests and actually produce clean water,” said said the governor. “But we are not there yet.”

The state on Thursday open seven new bottled water distribution sites, in addition to distribution sites already established by the city, Reeves said.

The sites, operated by the National Guard, include the state fairgrounds and Hinds Community College and for now will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., he said.

Cars line up Wednesday at a water distribution site at the Grove Park Community Center in Jackson, Mississippi.

Daily life turned upside down in Jackson

As authorities race to make repairs, obtain needed parts and deal with staffing shortages at Jackson’s water plants, the crisis upends daily life.

Residents see cloudy, discolored water coming out of their taps and are told it should be adequate for sanitation purposes. They cannot use the water for drinking, cooking or washing dishes, but they can shower and wash their hands in it, officials said.

“Please make sure in the shower that your mouth is not open,” Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection at the Mississippi Department of Health, said Wednesday, adding that pets should not consume more water.

According to the mayor, it is not known when residents will no longer have to boil the water, and it cannot be assessed until the water pressure returns to normal.

Meanwhile, all Jackson public schools switched to virtual learning on Tuesday. Jackson State University also moved to online classes this week and installed portable showers and toilets on campus.

“It feels like we’re living in a nightmare right now,” sophomore Erin Washington told CNN. Another student described seeing brown, smelly water coming out of faucets on campus.

What's it like trying to survive without water in Jackson, Mississippi

Businesses – many of which are still trying to recover from Covid-19-related setbacks – are also struggling. The city’s hospitality industry is hardest hit, said Jeff Rent, president and CEO of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership.

“Hotels and restaurants, already on low margins, cannot open or must make special accommodations, including the purchase of ice, water and soft drinks,” Rent said.

A father of five, Kehinde Gaynor, said the water shortage was frustrating for his family.

“It’s devastating as a father because we’re the breadwinners of the family. Right now we’re just paralyzed because we have no control over what happens outside the home,” said said Gaynor.

Residents had to endure long lines to get bottled water and undrinkable water from city-run distribution sites. Some sites this week ran out of water and turned people away.

Jackson resident Anita Shaw, 63, arrived early Thursday at a site where the Salvation Army was to distribute bottled water – a site the group says ran out of 2,700 cases a day later. early before everyone in a long line can get one.

Shaw expressed his frustration: residents have been without drinking water service for more than a month; not everyone can afford to keep buying bottles and the queues for free water are long. The water coming from her faucet on Thursday was light brown, she told CNN.

She still has to pay her $100 water bill, she said.

“I paid $100…and I can’t use the water,” Shaw said. “What’s the point of paying the water bill when you can’t use the water?”

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

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell will travel to Jackson on Friday, CNN has learned.

The OB Curtis water plant is seen Wednesday in Ridgeland, north of Jackson, Mississippi.

Longer term fixes are needed

Although Jackson saw many water problems over the years there have been acute problems since late July when the murky water was noticed at the city’s OB Curtis water treatment plant. The state imposed a boil water advisory for Jackson, as the cloudiness brings more chances that the water could contain disease-causing organisms.
Around the same time, the main pumps at OB Curtis — the city’s main treatment plant — were badly damaged, forcing the facility to operate with smaller standby pumps, Reeves said. said this week without giving details of the damage. The city announced August 9 troubled pumps were taken offline.

City officials and Reeves’ office did not respond to CNN’s requests for more details about the damages and causes.

The water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi has gotten so bad that the city temporarily ran out of bottled water to give to residents
The governor was warned last week that Jackson would soon be unable to produce running water, Reeves said said.
Then the floods: heavy rains last week caused the Pearl River to overflow and flood some streets in Jacksonculminating on Monday.

A reservoir’s inlet water was affected by heavy rains, creating a chemical imbalance on the conventional treatment side of the plant, Craig said Wednesday. This affected particle removal, causing that side of the plant to temporarily shut down and resulting in a loss of water distribution pressure.

Even with the installation of the temporary pump on Wednesday, significant mechanical and electrical issues remain due to deferred maintenance, including various pumps and motors that need to be replaced and sludge in the basins that has built up to low levels.” unacceptable,” Craig said.

Staffing issues further complicated matters, officials said.

Quad Johnson, center, carries packets of bottled water to cars at a water distribution site at the Grove Park Community Center in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday.
Jackson’s water system was also affected in February 2021, when a severe winter storm hit, pipes freezing and bursting and leaving many residents without water for a month.
This came after the city’s water system in early 2020 failed a Environmental Protection Agency inspection, which revealed that drinking water had the potential to harbor harmful bacteria or parasites.
Opinion: Jackson's water crisis endgame?

In July 2021, the EPA and the city reached 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 funding for water and sewer infrastructure for Mississippi.

Advocates have already pointed out systemic and environmental racism as one of the causes of Jackson’s persistent 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 datawhile the state legislature is predominantly white.

Asked Wednesday about claims that the deterioration of water infrastructure in Jackson is the result of environmental racism, Reeves said the state does not manage water systems.

“In the state of Mississippi, we have a large number of municipalities that run their own water system. We have a large number of rural water associations that run their own water system. Before Monday of this week , Mississippi State operates exactly zero water systems,” he said.

CNN’s Amy Simonson, Melissa Alonso, Amara Walker, Isabel Rosales and Amir Vera contributed to this report.

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