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Jackson Mayor Hopes Water Fully Restored, No Boiling by New Year’s Eve

City of Jackson Mayor Chokwe A Lumumba
Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said the city’s water system is recovering after a weekend of low temperatures that led to pipe breaks across the city. Photo courtesy City of Jackson

The City of Jackson is working to improve water availability after identifying “approximately 20 to 25 active leaks,” with crews “searching and repairing leaks,” Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“Our goal is to try to get the pressure stable, samples pooled and tested, and the precautionary notice lifted by Saturday,” the mayor added. “Now I will say that that is a bit of an ambitious goal, but nonetheless that is what we are focused on making happen at this time.”

He noted the interim third-party administrator Ted Henifin said that Jackson saw improvements on Tuesday “due to people turning off their faucets from the active drip that many residents may have implemented.”

At a press conference on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, the mayor had said that the capital city was dealing with the “worst-case scenario” because of the cold front that hit Jackson over the weekend. 

He noted that some residents “have not had water for days” and explained the City’s efforts to rectify the problem as water leaks from pipe bursts hamper efforts to increase water pressure throughout Jackson, which has been under a boil-water notice since Dec. 25, 2022. 

Hot water running from a sink faucet
The City of Jackson is under a precautionary boil-water notice following the cold front that caused pipe breaks. Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said on Dec. 28, 2022, that officials are working to ensure the notice is lifted by Dec. 31, 2022. Photo by Imani on Unsplash

“As they’ve increased pressure, they have not seen the response that they wanted in the system,” Lumumba said. “And so their concern is to find where potential loss could be taking place.”

“I’ve spoken to residents whose families have been in town for the holidays, who were scrambling to fix Christmas dinner, with little to no water,” the mayor said Tuesday. “There is no way to prevent what is happening to our water-treatment facility. We do not control mother nature.”

Memphis, Tenn., and cities across Louisiana are also under boil-water notices because of the effects freezing temperatures have had on pipes.

‘We Haven’t … Replaced Hundreds of Miles of Piping’

The mayor and Ted Henifin warned, on Dec. 19, 2022, of the possible consequences the cold temperatures may have on the city’s water infrastructure. Henifin, at the time, was confident that the weatherization efforts at the water plants would help withstand the weather change but was pessimistic about how the distribution system would hold up.

“We’ve had Jacobs Engineering and Jacobs Operation and Maintenance folks there; they’ve been laser-focused on the approach of winter and cold weather,” Henifin said at the Dec. 19 press briefing. “We’ve got the systems in much better shape than they’ve probably ever been in preparation for cold weather, and we continue that work today, and we’ll continue it throughout the week.”

“From an operations standpoint, we’re in better shape,” he added during his Dec. 23 interview with Mississippi Free Press’ Nick Judin.

Jackson water system's interim third-party manager Ted Henifin
Jackson water system’s interim third-party manager Ted Henifin said on Dec. 19, 2022, that the distribution system is vulnerable. Photo by Nick Judin

“While a lot of work has been done over the years since the (February 2021) freeze, we haven’t really replaced hundreds of miles of piping. It’s all susceptible,” Henifin said at the Dec. 19, press briefing. “So I’ve already reached out to our local contractor during the last freeze—the big freeze in 2021—they had four crews working basically 30 days to get that taken care of; they’ve got five crews lined up now. So we’re one crew up.”

The U.S. Congress earlier this month allocated $600 million to address the capital city’s water-system issue.

“We are dealing with an old and crumbling system that continues to offer challenge after challenge,” Lumumba said Tuesday. “Over the span of time that we have in order to prepare, there is little that we can do in order to prevent things like pipes rupturing and disturbing our water-treatment-distribution system.”

Effects on Fire Stations

On Wednesday, the Mississippi Department of Human Services announced the closure of its Hinds County office due to low water pressure. The Mississippi Department of Health encouraged its workforce in its Jackson offices on Tuesday evening to telework if the office was experiencing low-water pressure. 

“Essential workforce members should bring drinkable water if they are required to be on site,” the department said in a tweet.. The department also announced: “Due to no water, the Winston County Health Department will be closed.” 

By 4:14 p.m. on Dec. 28, the department issued an update: “Water pressure has been restored to much of the City of Jackson, but a precautionary boil water notice is still in effect. MSDH team members in the Jackson area should report to work as normal on Thursday, December 29, 2022, and should bring drinkable water with them.”

At the Tuesday press briefing, Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Armon said four fire stations out of 21 are without water including first stations Nos. 15 (4943 Clinton Blvd.), 6 (150 Livingston Park Drive), 11 (3860 Terry Road) and 12 (2435 McFadden Road). Those stations cannot assist in the emergency non-potable water distribution in the capital city. 

Armon told the Mississippi Free Press by phone on Dec. 28, 2022, that the number of Jackson fire stations without water had increased to five for that day, with Fire Station 22  (1590 Lakeshore Drive) joining them.

Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Armon
City of Jackson Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Armon said on Dec. 28, 2022, that five fire stations did not have water. Photo courtesy City of Jackson

At the other stations, “citizens can go by and bring their own container and fill up to have water to flush with,” he said Tuesday.

The assistant fire chief said at that press briefing that generally, in the event of a fire outbreak, “five or six fire units” respond, with each unit having “500 gallons of water.”

“At this time, we’ve instructed all our commanders to ask for additional units when they go out to those scenes,” Armon said. “So they would be able to use the water in the trucks to fight most fires; I don’t foresee us having any major issues with fighting fires.”

The mayor reiterated the system’s vulnerability when it comes to a similar event happening in the future. “The truth is that we’re vulnerable; we’re vulnerable,” Lumumba said Tuesday. “When weather hits like this, we know that it’s going to happen, and there’s nothing we can do until we’re able to replace the system.”

“Hundreds of miles of pipes that need to be weatherized; many that need to be replaced,” he added. “And so even with resources, that will take a long time to coordinate that effort.”

The Mississippi Fairgrounds (1207 Mississippi St.) is open to provide non-potable water to Jacksonians from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. today and afterward from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday for the immediate future, Agricultural Commissioner Andy Gipson announced Wednesday.

Water fills a neighborhood road due to pipe breaks
The City of Jackson is asking residents to report incidents of pipe breaks as it recovers from the impact of low temperatures on the water system. A Facebook user on Dec. 28, 2022, shared a video of water leaking on the street. Photo screengrab via Facebook

On Thursday, the City released a list of places to get bottled water that day. People in West Jackson can go to the Metro Center Mall (3645 US-80 E), south Jackson residents can go to Candlestick Plaza (820 Cooper Road), and people in northwest Jackson can get bottled water near Smilow Prep (787 E. Northside Drive). The elderly or disabled people can call 311 or 601.960.1875 for assistance. Those reporting leaks can call 601-960-1781 or 601-960-1777.

Since 9:35 a.m. Wednesday, when the city posted an updated list of where to get water on Facebook, some residents of the city have made their complaints known on that post, with one resident posting the video showing water leaking to the street. “Day 4 of no water. No one has come to look at the break on our street or put up barricades. Reported every day since Christmas Eve,” she wrote.

At Wednesday’s press briefing, the mayor said people should continue to reach out to the city to report problems, as the City faces staffing challenges to accommodate calls. “We’ve had fluctuating staffing with that, (but) we should be able to accommodate most of those calls at this time.”

“We have had challenges. … What we have is a lot of the staff that helps with 311 may also double with some of the people that help coordinate the water distribution efforts,” he added. “We ask for people’s persistence; you can even reach out on social media and let us know if you’re unable to get through.”

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