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Mayor Disputes Governor on Jackson Water Quality, Says System Improved Overnight

Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said he welcomes the State of Mississippi’s help to solve water system problems—and denied Gov. Tate Reeves’ announcement that Jackson water wasn’t safe to drink, bathe in or even use to brush teeth without boiling. Photo courtesy City of Jackson

JACKSON, Miss.Mississippi’s capital city has seen improvements in water pressure overnight, and the number of locations with water has increased, Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said at a press conference today in Jackson.

“We have seen steady improvements in the system,” he said. “There are individuals who did not have water pressure at all yesterday in which water pressure has returned, and the reports of the tanks is that there are steady gains being achieved each and every day.”

“In the middle of peak consumption, which is during the daytime hours, we’ve maintained steady (pressure),” he added. “At night is a moment that we look to have the greatest amount of recovery.”

Both the City of Jackson and the State of Mississippi declared states of emergency on Monday over problems at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Center worsened by Pearl River flooding this week. The treatment plant is designed to pump 50 million gallons a day for use in the capital city. Reporter Nick Judin reported earlier today that the Environmental Protection Agency had warned in a Mississippi Free Press interview several days ago that the facility’s systems were in danger of failing.

Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he is “sending a request for a federally declared disaster to support state and city emergencies.”

Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District Rep. Bennie Thompson said he supports the move to ask for federal assistance. “I hope the Federal government will be able to provide resources adequate and comprehensive enough to address the health and safety crisis facing the City of Jackson and surrounding communities,” he said on social media. “This situation requires immediate attention and cooperation from Federal, state, and local governments.”

The 3rd Congressional District Rep. Michael Guest blamed “decades of failed leadership.” 

“The problems in Jackson were many years in the making, and it will take many more years to fix them,” he wrote Tuesday. “The solutions will only be found by elected officials working together to fix the underlying issues, not playing politics or just merely throwing money at the problems.”

The mayor today welcomed the cooperation of the State of Mississippi in resolving various historic problems in the water system, and denied Reeves’ warning at his press conference last night that the City is distributing untreated water.

Reeves’ exact words were: “Please stay safe. Do not drink the water. In too many cases, it is raw water from the reservoir being pushed through the pipes.”

Gov. Tate Reeves (pictured) said on Aug. 29, 2022, that Jackson is pumping raw water into its water system. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba denied that assertion on Aug. 30, 2022. Photo courtesy State of Mississippi

“I do want to clarify just a few inaccuracies that have gone forward; first and foremost, the City of Jackson has not distributed any untreated raw water,” Lumumba said today. “That is inaccurate, but we do encourage our residents to continue to abide by the boil-water notice that has been in effect.” 

The capital city has been under a boil-water notice for a month because of problems with water-treatment methods at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Center and related issues.

Lumumba said Monday that operators had stopped pushing the water into the system to ensure adequate treatment because of the Pearl River flood water coming into the system at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant. The City wanted to increase production at the J.H. Fewell Water Treatment Center, which generally supplies 20 million gallons daily into the system. However, a pump failed there, making it unable to do so.

However, Carol Kemker, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division, told the Mississippi Free Press in an Aug. 26 interview that the facility’s system were likely to fail, in no small part due to the Lumumba administration dragging its feet on efforts to recruit qualified water operators.

“They could be reaching out to technical colleges, they could be holding recruitment events, they could be scheduling interviews, they could be putting in advertisements,” Kemker told Nick Judin. “(This is) what we do when we recruit. We’re not seeing those types of things.”

The mayor said today that the O.B. Curtis Water facility is suffering from numerous equipment failures. “This is a set of accumulated problems based on deferred maintenance that has not taken place over decades,” he said at the press conference.

Late today, NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson, who is from Jackson, challenged Gov. Reeves to do his part as well by rapidly requesting federal funds:

The Working Together Jackson coalition welcomes water donations for distribution to South Jackson residents.

“Governor Tate Reeves, why are you delaying requesting FEDERAL assistance from FEMA?” Johnson said in a statement.

“The citizens of Jackson, Mississippi, are facing a serious water crisis that will soon spiral into a catastrophe without appropriate action. Yet, you are failing to take the critical step of requesting federal assistance—and the consequences of that failure to act will harm most acutely Black communities in Jackson. Governor Reeves must immediately submit a federal emergency declaration request for FEMA support. Otherwise, Governor Reeves is putting the lives of thousands of his own residents on the line. Stop with the television appearances and ask for aid.”

‘Help Is Coming’

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency posted its guidance on Facebook regarding Jackson water at this time, saying residents should not give the tap water to pets, drink the tap water or make ice from it. Other instructions include cooking with bottled or boiled tap water and washing dishes with boiled or disinfected water.

“Tap water can be used to bathe as long as it isn’t swallowed,” the agency added. “Tap water can be used to wash clothes.”

The Working Together Jackson coalition is calling for water donations to bring relief to people in South Jackson. In a release on Aug. 30, 2022, the organization said people can bring portable and nonportable water to the New Horizon Church International (1770 Ellis Ave.).

“We also are hearing reports that the damage at the plant is not as severe as first assumed,” the organization said. “But the size of the Jackson system means that even if it started pumping at full strength right away, it would be Friday before South Jackson would have adequate water pressure.”

“Help is coming in terms of water donations from state resources, including the National Guard,” it added. “However, we are hearing from our sources that it could be the middle of the day Thursday at the earliest before that help arrives.”

Organizations Suspend Operations

The Mississippi Department of Human Services has closed its Hinds County office, with appointments now virtual. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History also announced the closure of the “Two Mississippi Museums, Eudora Welty House & Garden, and the archives library will be closed Tuesday, August 30, 2022, due to the low water pressure in Jackson,” the department said.

Jackson State University announced Monday that it is moving to virtual instruction for the rest of the week because of “low to no water pressure at all campus locations,” the institution said.

“For students living in the residence halls, dining will resume in Heritage Dining Hall tomorrow morning,” the school said. “Water will be delivered to all residential halls.”

By Aug. 30, 2022, Jackson State University had pivoted to virtual instruction for the week because of the low water pressure problem in the capital city. Photo courtesy Jackson State University

 The University of Mississippi Medical Center has said its “main campus at 2500 N. State St. in Jackson, and the Lakeland Medical Building near the main campus at 764 Lakeland Dr., are connected to a well-water system and not impacted by the City of Jackson water crisis.”

“Water quality for those facilities is not affected,” the organization added in its update. “There are no disruptions to normal operations, including all patient care, on the main campus and at the Lakeland Medical Building.”

“Patients who have an appointment at the main campus or Lakeland Medical Building should keep that appointment,” it continued. “If for some reason a patient is not able to appear for their appointment, the patient is asked to please call that clinic or location as soon as possible to let them know.”

Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones said detainees at the county’s detention facility have access to clean water. Photo by Kayode Crown

But UMMC buildings at Jackson Medical Mall, Select Specialty Hospitals Boston’s Kinds Clines, the Center for the Advancement of Youth, and Buildings LB and LA on Lakeland Drive are affected.

“Until further notice, patients should call to confirm appointments at any of those locations,” the organization added.

Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones said in a statement today: “The current water issue affecting the City of Jackson and other surrounding areas has not impacted the Raymond Detention Center and the Work Center (County Farm) in Raymond. Both facilities have full capacity operable water. Detainees have access to water.”

The Jackson Public School District on Tuesday announced a second day of virtual instruction. “The City of Jackson has indicated the water shortage will continue throughout the city for a few days,” JPS said. “In addition to the shortage, we have several schools whose air conditioning system depends on water to run effectively.”

“As a result, we will continue virtual learning on Wednesday, August 31,” it added. “We will continue to evaluate the water conditions every day to determine when it is safe to return to in-person learning.”

Mississippi Senators Call for Special Session

In a joint statement on Aug. 29, 2022, Mississippi state Sens. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson; David Blount, D-Jackson; John Horhn, D-Jackson; Walter Michel, R-Ridgeland; and Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson, asked for the governor “to call a special session of the Legislature to address the Jackson water crisis,” they wrote.

“The people of Jackson, Byram, Ridgeland, and Hinds County are in Day 32 of a boil water notice,” they added. “Water pressure issues are shutting down schools, businesses, and government offices. Raw sewage discharge has closed the Pearl River.”

Mississippi Senator Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, shared a picture of a mobile toilet at the state capitol. Photo courtesy Hillman Frazier

Mississippi State Sen. Frazier posted a picture of a mobile toilet outside the state capitol on Facebook on Tuesday with the caption, “The Mississippi State Capitol is open for business while we work through the Jackson water crisis.

State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney ordered the City to cooperate with state response teams, citing various failure points.

“Pursuant to §41-26-7 of Mississippi Safe Drinking Water Act of 1997 and based on the Declaration, the State Health Officer hereby orders that the City of Jackson including, but not limited to, employees of the Public Works Department and Emergency Management immediately cooperate with state response teams and contractors deployed to augment current staffing and to take remediation actions deemed necessary by the State Incident Commander,” Edney said in the order.

State health officer Dr. Daniel Edney ordered the City of Jackson to cooperate with the State. Photo courtesy MSDH 

Like the Environmental Protection Agency on Aug. 26, Edney noted the lack of operators and maintenance workers as well as the failure of multiple raw water pumps at the O.B. Curtis plant,  low water levels in the storage tanks and low water pressure, “all of which affect the ability to keep water clean and safe.”

“Disinfection levels (are) not consistently optimal developing the potential to have the presence of enteric organisms, including but not limited to, E.Coli, Cryptosporidium, or Giardia in the drinking water being served to customers,” he added.

City’s Water Distribution Plan

The City of Jackson said in a release today said it has tankers to distribute non-potable water at Forest Hill High School (2607 Raymond Road) and the MetroCenter Mall (3645 Highway 80). 

“Residents are asked to bring a container—such as a garbage can or cooler—to store the water,” the City said. “Non-potable water is not of drinking quality, but may still be used for other purposes, such as flushing toilets, washing clothes and cleaning.”

The City also announced that, in partnership with the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition, it will distribute bottled water at five locations from 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. The South Jackson locations are Sykes Community Center (520 Sykes Road) and Oak Forest Community Center (2827 Oak Forest Drive). Residents in West Jackson can go to the Westland Plaza Parking Lot and the IAJE Community Center (406 W. Fortification St.), and those in North Jackson have Grove Park Community Center (4126 Parkway Ave.) as the location.

Bottled water distribution will be at Grove Park and Sykes Community Center at 11 a.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays.

The City said that volunteers should email [email protected] and that it is collecting donations here.

See the Mississippi Free Press’ full Jackson water-crisis coverage, starting in March 2021.

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