Mississippi governor declares state of emergency after Jackson main water plant fails

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An SUV rests in floodwaters in this northeast neighborhood of Jackson, Miss., Monday, August 29, 2022.

Rogelio V. Solis | TBEN

Residents of Jackson, Mississippi, the state’s capital and largest city, will be unable to access reliable drinking water for the foreseeable future after the city’s main water treatment plant went down on Monday.

The state has declared a state of emergency for Jackson and activated the Mississippi National Guard. It also distributes drinking and non-potable water to up to 180,000 people until the system is repaired.

Governor Tate Reeves said at an emergency briefing Monday night that the city would be indefinitely without “reliable running water at scale” and that there isn’t enough water to flush toilets or fight fires.

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“Don’t drink the water. In too many cases, it’s 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 long-term problems at OB Curtis’ water treatment plant, which has been in crisis for years due to old infrastructure and insufficient resources to update it. The city also said recent rainfall and flooding from the Pearl River caused complications at the plant.

City officials said flooding from the Pearl River had caused problems at the factory, which is located near a reservoir that drains into the river. The city has been under a boil-water notice since last month after tests found cloudiness in water samples.

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The water problem got worse this week as businesses and homes had little to no water pressure and officials warned the water from the taps was untreated. Officials said on Monday that the water shortage is likely to continue in the coming days.

Reservoir Police observe the release of water from the Ross Barnett Reservoir Spillway on the Pearl River, Sunday, August 28, 2022, in Rankin County, Miss.

Rogelio V. Solis | TBEN

The governor said the exact cause of the failure was unknown and the treatment plant had been understaffed and operated for years. Reeves said the plant’s two primary pumps stopped working, leaving the system reliant on unreliable backup pumps.

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“It’s not working anywhere near capacity,” Reeves said of the plant. “Maybe tomorrow we’ll find out that it doesn’t work at all. We’ll find out.’

The water crisis affects the approximately 150,000 people living in Jackson and the 30,000 in surrounding communities who depend on the same water treatment plant. Jackson is approximately 82% black or African American, according to US Census data. In addition to the unreliable water system, the city suffers from crime and problematic infrastructure.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency distributes water to residents, and the state is overseeing efforts to initiate emergency repairs and maintenance to bring the water system up and running, the governor said.