Jackson, Mississippi, is without reliable running water after the river reaches dangerous levels

JACKSON, Miss. — State capital was without a reliable water supply on Monday after rain and flooding pushed the Pearl River to dangerous levels, officials said.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba declared an emergency for the water supply system on Monday night due to complications from the flooding of the Pearl River. He said problems at the OB Curtis water plant had resulted in low or no water pressure for many residents.

“The water shortage is expected to last for the next two days,” the city said in a statement. statement.

Image: Tracy Funches, Luc Chennault
Hinds County Emergency Management Assistant Operations Manager Tracy Funches, right, and Operations Coordinator Luke Chennault check water levels as they drive through floodwaters in northeast Jackson , Miss., Aug. 29, 2022.Roger V. Solis/AP

Jackson, the state’s capital and largest city, had water issues even before rain raised fears of Pearl River flooding.

The city has been under a boil water advisory since last month as tests revealed a cloudy quality of city-supplied water that could hamper the disinfection process and lead to illness.

The Environmental Protection Agency published a long report in 2020, describing the main shortcomings Jackson’s water system, which included the failure to replace lead pipes, faulty monitoring equipment, and inadequate personnel.

The community’s lack of reliable water has impacted even the most basic services, such as the drinking fountains at Whitten Middle School.

“Out of service” signs have been posted on these fountains for as long as anyone can remember, Professor George Stewart told NBC’s “Nightly News with Lester Holt.”

“I can’t, honestly, can’t remember” the last time the fountains ran, Stewart said.

Governor Tate Reeves told a press conference Monday night that the city’s water system was unable to produce enough water.

“Until it’s fixed, that means we don’t have reliable running water on a large scale,” Reeves said. “That means the city can’t produce enough water to fight fires, flush toilets reliably and meet other critical needs.”

Flooding in Jackson, a city of about 153,000, was less severe than we feared after the state got record rainfall, officials said.

The Pearl River is expected to remain at just over 35 feet but begin a slow decline Monday evening, the National Weather Service said.

“The good news is that the water levels are lower than expected,” Lumumba said during a briefing earlier Monday, adding that at the time it was thought water had only come in one house.

But river water entering what he said was an “already very fragile water treatment facility” meant it had to be treated differently and resulted in less water leaving the system, did he declare.

“This is a city-wide challenge that they are striving to rise to,” Lumumba said.

Reeves said there would be declarations of states of emergency in addition to those from the city.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency would distribute water to residents, and the state would also lead an effort to begin emergency repairs and maintenance to get the water running again, said said Reeves.

State Health Officer Daniel Edney told a press conference: “The water is not safe to drink. I would even say it is not safe to brush your teeth – because we are not seeing adequate chlorination and an inability to consistently disinfect the water.”

Residents should bring water to a full boil for at least three minutes, he said.

Reeves said the city’s main water treatment facility had “operated without redundancies,” or backup systems, and its main pumps had recently been damaged.

Jackson Public Schools said that all classes would switch to virtual learning and that there would be no in-person instruction from Tuesday due to the water shortage.

This water shortage will have a serious impact on students who do not respond well to online learning, teachers said.

“We have many students, considered some of our most vulnerable students, for whom virtual learning is not helping them at all,” said Stewart, president of the Jackson Association of Educators.

Stephanie Gosk reported from Jackson, Mississippi, Phil Helsel from Los Angeles and David K. Li from New York.

The Associated Press and David K. Li contributed.

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