Rogelio V. Solis/AP
JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said Monday night he was declaring a state of emergency after excessive rains exacerbated problems at one of Jackson’s water treatment plants and caused low water pressure in much of the capital.
The low pressure has raised concerns about firefighting and people’s ability to take showers or flush toilets.
Reeves said on Tuesday the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will begin distributing safe and unsafe water in the city of 150,000, and the National Guard will be called in to help. The governor said he understands Jackson residents don’t want to have water system problems.
“I get it. I live in town. This isn’t news I want to hear,” Reeves said. “But we will be there for you.”
A swollen Pearl River flooded streets and at least one home in Jackson on Monday, days after storms dumped heavy rain, but water levels were starting to drop. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the water did not rise as high as expected. Previous projections showed about 100 to 150 buildings in the Jackson area were at risk of flooding.
“We especially thank the Lord for sparing so many of our residents,” Lumumba said Monday, hours before the governor was to speak about the water system.
The National Weather Service said the Pearl River peaked at about 35.4 feet (10.8 meters). This is below the major flood stage of 36 feet (10.97 meters).
Jackson has two water treatment plants, and the largest is near a reservoir that provides most of the city’s water supply. The reservoir also has a role in flood control.
Lumumba – a Democrat who was not invited to the Republican governor’s press conference – said the flooding had created additional problems at the sewage treatment plant and the low water pressure could last for a few days.
“What I liken it to is if you were drinking from a polystyrene cup, someone puts a hole in the bottom, you constantly try to fill it as it steadily sinks to the bottom,” Lumumba said.
Jackson has had longstanding issues with its water system. A cold snap in 2021 left a significant number of people without running water after pipes froze. Similar problems recurred earlier this year, on a smaller scale. The city has been on a boil water advisory since late July as tests revealed cloudy water quality that could lead to health issues.
Legislative leaders have reacted with concern to Jackson’s latest water system issues.
“We have serious concerns for the health and safety of citizens,” Republican Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann said in a statement Monday, suggesting the state is playing a role in trying to resolve the issue.
Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said he has been contacted by hospitals, businesses and schools “pleading for something to be done to address the water crisis in Jackson.”
As the Pearl River began to rise last week, some Jackson residents began moving furniture and appliances out of their homes, and others stocked up on sandbags. Two years ago, torrential rains caused the river to rise 11.2 meters (36.7 feet) and Jackson homes in the hardest-hit neighborhoods were filled with dirty, snake-infested floodwaters .
Suzannah Thames owns a three-bedroom rental home in northeast Jackson that flooded in approximately 3 feet (0.9 meters) of water in 2020. Thames hired a crew to move appliances, furniture and other belongings out of the house on Friday. She said on Monday that the house was flooded with about 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10.2 centimeters) of water on Sunday evening.
“I thought it was going to be a lot worse,” Thames said. “I feel very lucky. I feel very blessed.”
Andre Warner, 54, said Monday his family had set up all of their furniture on cinder blocks inside their home to prepare for possible flooding in another northeast Jackson neighborhood.
Warner said the family had to leave the house for two weeks during the 2020 flood. Water did not enter their home at that time, but the electricity was cut in their neighborhood because that other houses were flooded.
“We had to wait for it to drain and dry out for them to cut the grid,” Warner said.
The Mississippi flood was less severe than the one that caused death and destruction in Kentucky last month. These floods killed at least 39 people and robbed thousands of families of all their belongings. Nearly a month later, residents are debating whether to rebuild in the place they call home or start over somewhere else.