The situation remains dire for many residents of Jackson, Mississippi, as the city enters the sixth day since a major water plant failed, leaving thousands unable to access clean drinking water. tap.
Efforts to restore supply suffered a setback on Friday when a chemical imbalance and reduced water pressure were detected.
“It’s like fixing the plane while you’re still flying. You have to be very careful how you fix it to keep flying,” Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection at the Mississippi Department of Health, said at a Friday night press conference. .
“It’s the same as we try to produce water. All of this water demand has to keep happening and every time we have to do maintenance, we have to compensate for some of it,” Craig explained.
The town of around 150,000 had been under a boil water advisory since July 30 – then flooding from heavy rain last weekend led to a chemical imbalance at the plant OB Curtis water treatment plant.
Since then, life for Jackson residents has been turned upside down, forcing them to line up in bright sunshine in scorching heat to get bottled water they can use for drinking, cooking or brushing their teeth. It also closed schools.
“We’re constantly paying water bills and we can’t use the water,” Jackson resident Corean Wheeler said. “We feel like we live in a third world country in America, and that’s pretty bad.”
But progress has been made, according to national and local authorities.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba highlighted “two straight days of gains” at a press conference on Friday, while acknowledging that “not all residents have pressure or water.”
“The team is there 24/7 to make sure those gains are established or sustained,” 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, measuring the pressure in the lines. It was reduced to 77.2 PSI later that day, he said.
The reduction means areas farther from the plant and at higher elevations may still experience low or no water pressure, according to a city news release. The goal was to get pressure levels up to 87 PSI, the city said.
On Saturday afternoon, city officials said most of Jackson is expected to have pressurized water, according to a Facebook post.
The water plant made “significant gains” from Friday night to Saturday, increasing the plant’s total output to 86 PSI with the aim of reaching 87 PSI.
“The outlook is very stable. However, additional challenges as repairs and adjustments are made leave the potential for ongoing fluctuations,” the city statement read.
The city said a few remaining pockets in South Jackson may still see little or no pressure as work continues at the plant Saturday on membrane and conventional systems.
As crews work to increase water pressure, Lumumba warned that another infrastructure problem could be on the horizon.
“As they are able to increase pressure at the plant to levels it hasn’t seen in many years, the challenge then is whether we have any burst pipes across town,” did he declare. “We know we have broken pipes, we have aged pipes just like our water treatment facilities age.”
In early 2020, the water system failed an Environmental Protection Agency inspection, which found 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.
According to a report from the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, which the Clarion Ledger published in January, the problems are largely systemic — old and leaky pipes, malfunctioning treatment plants and insufficient funds to fix the problems.
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 previously pointed to systemic and environmental racism as among the causes of Jackson’s ongoing water issues 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 overwhelmingly white.
Plant staffing has also been an issue, officials said.
Six of the 11 water reservoirs have reached stable levels, and the others are improving their levels, the city noted in a news release.
In the meantime, authorities are still urging residents to boil their water.
For Jackson to reach a clean water benchmark, the state health department must test 120 water samples from different locations over a two-day period, and all samples must return clean results. said the governor.
“I can assure 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 dispensed 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 into critical resources to respond to the crisis, Reeves said.