By Justin Malone, Staff Writer
Thousands of residents in Jackson, Mississippi have been left without clean drinking water. The O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant was damaged following severe rain and flooding in late August.
In Jackson, Miss., more than 150,000 residents lack clean and reliable running water.
Severe record-setting rainfall and flooding in late August dramatically rose water levels to dangerous heights in the local Pearl River. This flood streets and penetrating the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, which treats more than 50 million gallons of water a day for the city and surrounding communities.
The rising floodwaters caused the facility’s backup pumps to fail, on which the plant was solely operating after its main motors had already stopped working.
Catastrophic issues at the plant led Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba to declare a water system emergency on Aug. 29, as Jackson’s water system was on the verge of collapse. These problems resulted in low or no water pressure for many residents in Jackson early last week.
Contributing to he situation were problems with a water system that had been unreliable — one crippled by aged, insufficient infrastructure, delayed, and meagre maintenance.
The city has previously dealt with frequent water service disruptions and warnings, including a boil advisory that had been in effect since July due to high levels of cloudiness in the water supply that could cause potential illness.
Residents have also been warned to shower with their mouths closed due to the contaminated water.
In response to the crisis, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and the Biden administration issued an emergency declaration last week to aid with disaster relief efforts.
“To everyone in the city: I know that you’re dealing with a profoundly unfair situation,” Reeves said.
“It’s frustrating, it’s wrong and it needs to be fixed,” he added.
As a part of his emergency declaration, Reeves also activated Mississippi National Guard troops to help local volunteers distribute bottled drinking water and potable water at seven mass distribution sites created by the state, in addition to several city sites.
Many of these distribution sites quickly ran out of water, prompting response from various local organizations, such as anti-violence program Operation Good.
At a press conference concerning the water crisis, Reeves addressed these response efforts.
“Together, we have built a strong coalition to respond to the crisis. I’m incredibly appreciative to all the folks who are working together to help those in need,” he said.
President Biden and White House officials have been in contact with Lumumba about relief assistance, including support from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We’ve offered every single thing available. In Mississippi, the governor has to act. There’s money to deal with this problem,” Biden said.
Meanwhile, the lives of Jackson residents have been affected tremendously. Thousands face long lines at distribution sites in intense heat for safe water to utilize, businesses have adapted and purchased clean water and schools have temporarily shifted to remote learning.
Progress has been made in restoring water service to residents, according to state and local officials. Lumumba said that water pressure had been re-established for most city residents on Sunday.
“All of Jackson should now have pressure and most are now experiencing normal pressure. Multiple tanks are approaching full. We no longer have any tanks at low levels,” a city news release detailed.
However, Lumumba stated that the city still faced enormous efforts to fully restore service.
He noted that Jackson “will be in an emergency even as the water is restored.”