Mississippi governor declares emergency amid Jackson water crisis
An SUV rests in flood waters in this northeast Jackson, Miss., neighborhood, Monday, Aug. 29, 2022.
Rogelio V. Solis | AP
Residents of Jackson, Mississippi, the state’s capital and largest city, do not have access to reliable drinking water for the near future after the city’s main water treatment facility failed on Monday.
The state has issued a state of emergency for Jackson and has activated the Mississippi National Guard. It’s also distributing drinking and non-drinking water to up to 180,000 people until the system is fixed.
Gov. Tate Reeves said during an emergency briefing Monday night that the city would be without “reliable running water at scale” indefinitely and that there isn’t enough water to flush toilets or fight fires.
“Do not drink the water. In too many cases, it is raw water from the reservoir being pushed through the pipes,” Reeves warned residents. “Be smart, protect yourself, protect your family.”
Officials blamed the problem on longstanding issues at the O.B. Curtis water treatment plant, which has been in crisis for years due to old infrastructure and inadequate resources to update it. The city also said that recent rainfall and flooding of the Pearl River caused complications at the plant.
City officials said that flooding of the Pearl River had created issues at the plant, which is located near a reservoir that flows into the river. The city has been under a boil-water notice since last month after tests found cloudiness in water samples.
The water problem grew worse this week when businesses and homes endured little to no water pressure and officials warned that the water from the taps was untreated. Officials on Monday said the water shortage is likely to last the next couple of days.
Reservoir police observe the water release from the Ross Barnett Reservoir Spillway onto the Pearl River, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022, in Rankin County, Miss.
Rogelio V. Solis | AP
The governor said the exact cause of failure was unknown and that the treatment plant had been inadequately staffed and operated for years. Reeves said the plant’s two primary pumps had stopped working, which left the system to depend on unreliable backup pumps.
“It’s not operating anywhere near capacity,” Reeves said of the plant. “We might find out tomorrow it’s not operating at all. We’ll find out.”
The water crisis is affecting the roughly 150,000 people who live in Jackson and the 30,000 who live in surrounding communities that rely on the same water treatment facility. Jackson is about 82% Black or African American, according to U.S. Census data. In addition to the unreliable water system, the city has been grappling with crime and problematic infrastructure.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is distributing water to residents and the state is overseeing efforts to begin emergency repairs and maintenance to get the water system up and running, the governor said.