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‘Do Not Drink The Water’: Jackson Water System Failing For 180,000 People

screenshot shows Gov. Tate Reeves at a podium in front of a Mississippi emergency seal
“Do not drink the water,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves warned residents of Jackson, Miss., in an emergency press briefing on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022. “In too many cases, water from the reservoir is being pushed through the pipes.” The governor announced that the State is surging resources to the capital city’s beleaguered water treatment plant. Screencap: Reeves/Facebook

Jackson’s water system is failing and water across the city is entirely unsafe to drink, officials said at an emergency briefing Monday night. State leadership have warned all residents of Mississippi’s capital city to boil water before drinking or even brushing their teeth.

“We need to provide water for up to 180,000 people for an unknown period of time,” Reeves said tonight.

“Please stay safe,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said at the evening briefing. “Do not drink the water. In too many cases, it is raw water from the reservoir being pushed through the pipes. Be smart, protect yourself, protect your family, preserve water, look out for your fellow man and look out for your neighbors.”

Reeves declared a state of emergency over the Jackson water crisis tonight, ordering the state to step in to prop up the failing O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant and to deliver potable water to Jackson residents beginning tomorrow.

“This is a very different situation from a boil water notice,” Reeves said at a press event tonight. “Until it is fixed, we do not have reliable running water at scale. The city cannot produce enough water to fight fires, to flush toilets and to meet other critical needs. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will take the state’s lead on distributing drinking water and non-drinking water to residents of the City of Jackson.”

Following a month without clean, drinkable water, Jackson has now mostly lost water pressure, with operational collapses at O.B. Curtis reducing the flow of water through the city’s distribution system to the degree that residences and businesses across the city have little or no water at all.

While the city highlighted the potential flooding of structures at O.B. Curtis due to the high crest of the Pearl River over the weekend, officials have yet to firmly establish the direct causes of the plant failures at the water treatment plant.

“The main pumps had recently been damaged severely,” Reeves said, “about the same time as the prolonged boil water notice began. The facility is now operating on smaller backup pumps.”

Whatever the cause, Reeves said that the State will be intervening to prop up the water plant on the brink.

“The state has created an incident command structure, is surging our resources to the city’s water treatment facility and beginning emergency maintenance, repairs, and improvements,” Reeves said. “We will do everything in our power to restore water pressure and get water flowing back to the people of Jackson.”

A lack of visibility at O.B. Curtis has Mississippi State Department of Health leadership unable to answer how much water is currently flowing out of the plant and into Jackson’s pipes. Tomorrow, leadership warned, they may discover that O.B. Curtis is not producing any water at all.

Operational failures at O.B. Curtis are downstream from the facility’s most pressing issue—a near complete lack of qualified personnel. Class A water operators and regular maintenance staff are sorely needed at O.B. Curtis. The governor said tonight that the State would be acquiring the operators necessary, and would split the cost with the City of Jackson.

“We will cash flow the operation and the City will be responsible for half of the cost of the emergency improvements that we make,” Reeves said. “I want to make something very clear to those operators we have been and will be reaching out to: You will be paid for your work. The state is owning that guarantee.”

Reeves did not invite Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba to the emergency presser, nor have the governor and the mayor spoken directly about the ongoing crisis. “The mayor, to my knowledge, has accepted those terms in principle and the mobile incident command center will be operating tomorrow morning,” Reeves said.

Today, Lumumba also declared a state of emergency, stressing that the city was not cutting off water to residents, but acknowledging that a water shortage was likely to last for “the next couple of days.”

Also read Nick Judin’s award-winning 2021 multi-part series revealing factors creating the Jackson water crisis over the decades, and other followup stories.

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