Mississippi Emergency Management

Jackson water: Congress calls for probe of spending


Lumumba, Reeves continue to point fingers as Congress calls for probe of Jackson water spending

About a month from a unified effort to lift Jackson out of its water crisis, city and state officials continue to trade public jabs, with the future of the water system on the line.

Meanwhile, the federal government is now tackling the crisis on multiple fronts, with members of Congress on Monday calling for an investigation into the state’s infrastructure spending.

Gov. Tate Reeves released a statement Monday criticizing Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba for being unwilling to work with the Unified Command Structure, a multi-agency taskforce that the state formed in late August to help diagnose, fund and fix issues at Jackson’s main water treatment plant.

Specifically, Reeves said city officials told his office they were unwilling to participate in the state’s emergency contract procurement to hire staff across the Jackson water system for a year. The posted the “request for qualifications,” or RFQ, on Friday.

“That would be a huge mistake by the city,” the governor said. “They would be communicating through this action that they no longer desire state assistance and insist on going it alone.”

Reeves said in his statement that the Environmental Protection Agency was pressing the state to hire support staff, and to “take the lead” in procuring the contract. The EPA told Jackson officials in late September it was “prepared to take action,” and then two weeks ago the Jackson City Council voted to enter into a confidentiality agreement with the Department of Justice in discussing a settlement.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves greets members of the Mississippi National Guard at a water distribution site located at the Mississippi Trade Mart in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, September 1, 2022.

Lumumba disputed that he was unwilling to participate in the unified approach, saying instead that city officials hadn’t had a chance to review the RFQ before the state published it.

“The City of Jackson has made no mention of ending the City’s cooperation with the Unified Command Structure,” the mayor said in a statement Monday. “What the city will not do is agree to a Request for Qualifications, without the entire Unified Command Structure, which includes the city, having had an opportunity to first contribute, revise or approve the language.”

Jackson, as the RFQ states, would be the entity funding the contract. Hence, Lumumba added: “It is only reasonable to expect the City to play a role in hiring that company.” 

The RFQ seeks staffing to operations, maintenance, and management of both of the city’s surface water treatments plants — O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell — as well as Jackson’s tanks and well facilities, for a year.

The governor’s statement says Jackson officials had a chance to review the “technical components of the request,” but did not mention any other involvement from the city.

Before the state intervened in late August to take over the O.B. Curtis operations, Lumumba said the city was looking for an operations and management contractor to run the treatment plant.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, with City of Jackson Communications Manager Melissa Payne, fields questions during a community meeting held to update the public on the water system, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2022, at College Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

But at a community meeting on Sept. 13, the mayor said the company he was looking at would no longer negotiate because it was now talking with the state instead. Two days later, WLBT reported, the state awarded an operations contract to Hemphill Construction that lasts two months.

As part of the Unified Command Structure the state established in late August, the state and Jackson officials each agreed to pay half the costs for emergency repairs. President Joe Biden then declared a federal emergency, which included paying for 75% of water system improvement costs for 90 days. That cost-share expires on Nov. 29.

The state’s Emergency Management Assistance Compact, or EMAC, contracts expire on Thursday, said. For weeks, the city and state have relied on the EMAC program to help rehabilitate O.B. Curtis through the work of out-of-state water operators.

Thompson, Maloney launch investigation over state’s role

U.S. Reps. Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney sent a letter to Reeves on Monday asking for information on the state’s spending of federal drinking water funds. The two Democrats expressed concern over how Mississippi has divvied up historic amounts of federal funding thus far.

“The and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law made billions of dollars available to Mississippi to address a variety of problems,” the letter says, “However, criteria used by (state legislation) to allocate funding — such as median household income, possible population decline and unemployment rate — may limit the funding Jackson receives to other locales, despite Jackson’s much greater need.”

In the letter, Thompson and Maloney ask Reeves for a of how the state was allocating money from the American Rescue Plan Act. They also ask for details on the extra oversight state lawmakers required for sending matching funds to Jackson.

State lawmakers required that matching ARPA funds provided to Jackson go through the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, a burden placed on no other municipality in the state.

Jackson residents and supporters hold signs as they march to the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson, Miss. to protest the ongoing water issues in the city on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.

The letter also asks about an “arbitrary” $500,000 cap the state established in forgiving loans paid for with money from the Infrastructure Law.

The investigation comes after both the NAACP and the Poor People’s Campaign have in recent weeks called for legal action against the state for depriving the majority-Black city of support for its water system.

The questions over state support to Jackson follow a history of Mississippi lawmakers putting up obstacles for the city to access needed infrastructure funding.

In 2013, lawmakers voted to allow Jackson to add a 1-cent sales tax to help pay for infrastructure. However, lawmakers took the unusual step of creating a commission to oversee the spending and projects, over objections from city leaders, and lawmakers exempted many purchases from the additional tax. So far, most of the projects approved have been for street repairs.

In 2021, lawmakers killed a proposal from the city to allow city voters to decide whether to levy an additional, citywide 1-cent sales tax increase for water and sewerage repairs. The push came after historic winter storms that year left much of the city without water for weeks.

Also in 2021, the city of Jackson unsuccessfully lobbied lawmakers for $47 million in funding for drinking water improvements. The Jackson City Council also requested another $60 million to build new water tanks. With the state relatively flush with cash, lawmakers approved spending $356 million in projects statewide, but earmarked only $3 million for Jackson.

In an interview earlier this year with Mississippi Today, Lumumba described the ’s attitude toward Jackson as both racist” and “paternalistic” in terms of how the capitol city is treated compared to other governmental entities.

Mississippi Today reporters Bobby Harrison and Geoff Pender contributed to this report.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

State of Mississippi seeking to hire a contractor for O.B. Curtis


rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Mississippi – 2022-10-15 11:12:32

The Agency is looking for a private company to staff the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, and other aspects of the water system, for one year under an emergency contract, according to a request for qualifications issued by on Friday.

The request comes one month after the 45-day long boil water notice in Jackson and Byram was lifted, and after and federal partners stepped in to bring the plant, which is owned by the city of Jackson, back online following that overwhelmed the plant.

“MEMA is acting as the coordinating agency for the…

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Clean water restored for Jackson, Reeves hints at city losing control


Clean water restored for Jackson, Reeves hints at city losing control

by Alex Rozier,
September 15, 2022

After a month and a half of Jacksonians needing to boil their water for consumption, the Mississippi Health Department finally lifted the advisory at 1 p.m. on Thursday.

Gov. Tate Reeves announced the shortly after, cautioning there’s a long road ahead to ensure similar water system failures don’t occur again in Jackson.

”While we have restored water quality, this system is still imperfect,” Reeves said. “We cannot perfectly predict what may go wrong with such a broken system in the future.”

When asked by reporters about the next steps for managing the capital city’s drinking water, Reeves laid out the possibility that Jackson will not regain control of the system after the state declared a public health emergency and took it over.

“To the residents of Jackson, I would simply say, I don’t think it’s very likely that the city is going to operate the water system in the city of Jackson anytime soon, if ever again,” the governor said.

Reeves reiterated that any decision to the water system from city control would have to go through the state .

State officials first took control of operations and emergency repairs at Jackson’s primary treatment plant, O.B. Curtis, after the governor’s announcement on Aug. 29 that the plant was on the verge of failure.

The state is also taking the next steps to contract a project manager to handle equipment issues at O.B. Curtis, Agency executive director Stephen McCraney explained. The request for qualifications window closed Thursday at noon, and will review applications before it picks a vendor.

The goal for the contractor, Reeves said, is to increase redundancies at the plant in the case of future equipment failure.

Before Jackson residents return to drinking water straight from their taps again, the says they should first their faucets for three to four minutes to allow clean water to recirculate. Residents can visit MSDH’s website for a full list of next steps after a boil water notice.

However, the department also warned Thursday that pregnant people and young children are still advised to follow precautions before using or consuming tap water.

The state’s announcement on Thursday that it was lifting the boil water notice suggested a lack of communication with City of Jackson officials.

On Wednesday, the city said in its daily update that full sampling required to lift the notice had not yet started, and that officials were still investigating when sampling could begin. Per state health requirements, the state health department has to record two straight days of clean samples to lift the notice.

When asked by a reporter for clarification, Reeves said, “I don’t read the city’s daily reports and I don’t think you should either.”

After another reporter asked what he meant by that, Reeves refrained from further criticizing the city, only saying that he recommends people use MEMA’s updates for the latest information on the water system.

MSDH Director of Health Protection Jim Craig also reminded Jackson residents, particularly young children and pregnant people, to take precautions consuming and using tap water because of the potential for lead in the water system until the city finishes the necessary corrosion control in the distribution system.

”Although the majority of home lead testing performed to date identified no lead or lead below the action level set by the (Environmental Protection Agency), the health department is continuing its recommendations as a special precaution, especially for households with young children or pregnant women,” Craig said.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.


Local activists push back on proposed plans to privatize city water system


‘What’s next, the air?’ Local activists push back on proposed plans to privatize city water system

At the southwest entrance to the Metrocenter Mall on Saturday, Sept. 3 –  the sixth day of Jackson’s current water crisis – shards of glass cluttered the sidewalk where doors used to be. Inside, a city worker drove a green forklift which left tracks on the marble floor and beige carpet as he reorganized hundreds of pallets of donated water one by one. 

This abandoned mall, where the primary tenants are and water department, has in recent weeks become the nexus of a city-wide water distribution effort called the Rapid Response Coalition, a partnership between the City of Jackson and volunteers with 30-plus advocacy organizations.

Water donated from across the country is brought here in 18-wheelers and then distributed early each morning to six coalition- sites in neighborhoods in south and west Jackson, predominantly Black and poorer parts of the city more affected by the water crisis. 

Danyelle Holmes, a member of the Poor People’s Campaign, has spent nearly every day outside at the mall, helping to manage the massive distribution effort that the coalition estimates has put more than an 1.2 million bottles of water into the hands of Jacksonians for free. 

She said the goal is to help the city with its distribution effort and to fill gaps in the state’s response. 

“We’ve seen a lack of response from our government – our state government leadership, and so we decided two years ago when the pandemic hit that we weren’t going to wait on anyone to come and save us,” Holmes said. “So it’s our goal and it’s our mission to save ourselves.” 

READ MOREMississippi Today’s complete coverage of the Jackson water crisis

Two and a half weeks into the current water crisis, the coalition has scaled back operations as the city and state have restored the water pressure at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant and turned attention to addressing the boil water notice. This week, only two coalition sites – Westland Plaza and Oak Forest Community Center – are still open daily, with the rest operating just two days a week. Volunteers are prioritizing home delivery, Holmes said. 

Now, the coalition is shifting focus to drawing up demands – tentatively to be released this week – for a long-term solution to the water crisis. They hope to pressure state leaders to enact solutions they view as more equitable.

There are currently a handful of proposals on the table to fix Jackson’s water system, but every option reportedly entails Jackson ceding some control of its water system to an outside party, be it a state entity or commission, a regional authority, or a private company. 

To many activists, the state and to some extent the federal government bear responsibility for the water crisis, not the city. Any move that infringes on Jackson’s control of its water system seems to suggest the city is responsible for the crisis – a notion they attribute to racism. They emphasize that the water crisis would not have happened without white lawmakers withholding state funding. 

“We’ve only had Black leaders for the last two or three terms, so how can you blame this divestment on the fact that we have Black leadership?” asked Lorena Quiroz, the executive director of the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity.

One proposal in particular – privatization – has been widely condemned by activists. State leaders have suggested that the city could lease its water system to a private company that would manage operations. The second week of the crisis, Lumumba said the city had been in talks to contract out operations and management.

When some Jacksonians hear the word “privatization,” though, they picture a for-profit company outright purchasing the water system.

Private water systems come at an increased cost to customers, though research has shown they are less likely to violate federal clean drinking-water laws than public utilities. 

Private water systems can also be less accountable to the public, which some activists said could be problematic at a time when trust needs to be restored in the system. 

“The thing with privatization is they control what they think is best for us,” said Imani Olugbala, a member of Cooperation Jackson. “If it’s government-led, we have some oversight. If it’s exclusively for profit, we have to pay the price for water, and it’s going to be whatever they say, because that’s the capitalist construction. What’s next, the air?”

Many also noted it’s ironic that state leaders who ignored Jackson’s water crisis get to decide the response. 

“I would’ve liked to see swifter movement on the state-level because it seemed like it was weeks before we heard anything from Gov. Reeves,” said Blaise Adams, a pre-law student at Tougaloo College who was passing out water at IAJE’s pick-up site. “Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been proactively worked on.” 

Quiroz questioned if Jackson’s water system can ever be truly fixed in a stratified, capitalist

“Water should be free. We shouldn’t have to pay for water,” she said. “That should be something that’s provided by the fucking state.” 

The work of distributing free water might not sound radical during a crisis, but to Holmes and other members of the Rapid Response Coalition, it is a model for how another, better society could function. 

Since the water emergency started, members of the coalition have held an 8 a.m. Zoom call to discuss plans for the day. They decide collectively how to spread out their resources – how much water should be allocated to each of the six pick-up sites based on the amount distributed the day before and who should respond to emergency calls the city’s 311 line receives from Jacksonians who need water.

The approach to activism is known as “mutual aid,” in which people in a community provide resources that the government failed to in a way that aims to not recreate systematic disparities. A term coined by a famous anarchist, mutual aid also aims to create social change by harnessing the collective work to achieve a political end. 

“We create our own system while at the same time pushing to change the current systems that fail people,” said Lea Campbell, the founding president of the climate-justice organization Mississippi Rising Coalition at IAJE’s site on the corner of Fortification and N West Street.

That Saturday morning – the same day Holmes was at the Metrocenter Mall – about 17 volunteers stood between cases of bottled water on the sidewalk. An occasional hitch like the backdoor of a Honda minivan closing slowly held up the line.

Some members donned red to show they were members of the local Democratic Socialist of America chapter; others, college students from Tougaloo and Oxford, wore shirts that said “DO GOOD” and “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.” 

“We got everybody in the house,” Quiroz said. She supervised the line with the attitude of a school teacher (she used to be one) overseeing car pick-up, inviting passersby who stopped to get some water to park their cars and volunteer. 

It’s important for organizations like IAJE to step up during disasters, Quiroz said, because many people can’t afford pricey and personal solutions like buying their own water or installing filtration systems. 

“It’s like the decision,” she said. “Folks that have the money can have access to as , they just have to get in their car and drive.” 

It can be scrappy work. At the Metrocenter Mall, the coalition’s base of operations was right next to a distribution site run by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Stocked with non-potable water, porta-potties, military-style forklifts and dozens of uniformed National Guardsmen, MEMA’s site looked very different from the coalition’s. 

“The National Guard has far more money than we do, the state has far more resources, so we can’t begin to compete,” Holmes said. “That’s comparing apples to oranges.” 

As Holmes talked with Mississippi Today, about a dozen volunteers sat on empty wooden pallets, waiting for the workers inside the mall to finish unloading an 18-wheeler of water. At one point, a city water department employee tried to drive a forklift even though she had no experience. 

Kadin Love, an organizer with Black Youth Project 100, said he thinks the solution to the crisis is better state and local representation for Black Mississippians that will only be achieved if activists from across the country invest time and money in the state at a level that hasn’t been seen since Freedom Summer. 

“Money isn’t poured down here, folks don’t come down here to help us organize,” he said. “We’ve had to address our own issues systematically since basically 1964.” 

His experience this past year watching national go ignored as it unfolded in Jackson has not exactly left him feeling optimistic. 

“Mississippi was the epicenter of the fight for abortion, but we didn’t see millions of people down here organizing,” he said. “In Jackson, at some of our largest protests we max out at maybe 200, 300 people.” 

“Why didn’t we have any support beforehand?” he continued. “Why are we the last line of defense?” 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson water crisis: Reeves asks SBA to open loans to businesses affected


Governor asks SBA to open loans to businesses affected by water crisis

Gov. Tate Reeves asked the U.S. Small Business Administration to open low-interest disaster loans to businesses hurt by the Jackson water crisis in a formal letter Monday. 

“Jackson businesses have been hit incredibly hard by the ongoing water crisis,” Reeves said in a statement. “They have shown their resilience and their commitment to this city throughout the years, and my administration will continue to do everything it can to support them during this difficult time.”

In his letter to the program’s director, Reeves outlined how businesses from daycares to restaurants had to shut down when they lost water pressure. Restaurants that have been open have had a major loss of customers while harboring extra expenses to buy clean water to keep their doors open. 

READ MORE: As Jackson water crisis persists, restaurateurs worry customers are scared to dine out

Some businesses also took on the costs of portable toilets when their own could not flush. Hotels, the governor mentioned, also have had a sharp decline in overnight stays. 

“Overall, with little to no running water throughout the city, businesses could not serve, clean, cool, or sanitize, forcing them to either suffer losses or temporarily shut down,” the letter says

In order to prove the county could qualify for the loan program, the governor’s office had to survey local businesses and show at least five small businesses “suffered substantial economic injury.” 

Restaurants and other affected businesses filled out paperwork about their costs and losses to , giving the governor the data needed to apply to the program. 

If activated, individual businesses could receive up to $2 million in SBA loans under the disaster program to help with expenses and obligations that could have been met had the water crisis not occurred. The loan amount a business can receive will be based on its economic injury and the company’s financial needs. 

The program’s interest rate does not exceed 4%. 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson: Officials focus on ending boil water notice


With water pressure issues solved, Jackson shifts focus to boil water notice

After intervention from the Mississippi Department of Health, the , three different federal agencies, and water plant operators from Georgia, Florida and Louisiana, water pressure leaving the city of Jackson’s O.B. Curtis treatment plant is finally stable.

After the city’s largest water treatment facility failed last week, leaving most of the capital city’s 150,000-plus residents with little or no water pressure, officials have made drastic progress. Since the weekend, the reported pressure at the city’s largest water treatment facility has been at or near ideal levels, hovering around the goal of 87 pounds per square inch (PSI) according to city updates.

But with or without pressure, Jacksonians have had to boil their water to drink or brush their teeth for the last 40 days, as advised by the . MSDH can’t lift the advisory until city officials collect 120 samples free of E. coli and coliform bacteria in two consecutive days.

A combination of heavy rain, and low pressure stopped Jackson from conducting those samples over the last couple weeks, and now the city will spend the few days flushing out the “bad” water before it can resume sampling, Gov. Tate Reeves explained Wednesday. Reeves said it is unlikely that will happen by Friday.

Water quality and turbidity

MSDH first issued the citywide boil notice on July 29 because of turbidity, or cloudiness in Jackson’s water. While turbidity itself is not unsafe, MSDH explained, it can interfere with the disinfection process, which is why the city has to collect samples showing the system is free of bacteria.

City officials attributed the turbidity to a lime slurry operators used to balance the pH in the water.

Prior to the pause in sampling, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba emphasized that only a couple of the 120 samples came back showing bacteria, although the city never said whether there was a trend in which sampling locations didn’t yield clean results. Lumumba in early August called the turbidity a “technical violation,” and said it didn’t pose a public health threat.

READ MORE: Rep. Bennie Thompson: Treat Jackson fairly, but if it can’t run water system, let someone else

When asked about that characterization, Anneclaire De Roos, an associate professor at Drexel University who specializes in environmental and occupational health, said that turbidity guidelines are a “line that shouldn’t be crossed,” and that federal drinking water restrictions are “not as conservative as they could be.”

“Turbidity is an indicator of whether there might be increased amounts of pathogens,” De Roos said. “The more particles in the water, that has been correlated with higher levels of pathogens like bacteria, viruses.”

She explained that it’s more efficient for a water system to test for turbidity rather than do separate tests for each pathogen. De Roos called the turbidity measurement recorded in MSDH’s boil water notice — between 1 and 2.5 turbidity units, to the legal threshold of 0.3 — “certainly high.”

Last week, when the city was struggling to produce adequate water pressure, the Environmental Protection Agency allowed Jackson to release water with higher than the allowed amount of turbidity to ensure there was enough pressure in the system for sanitary uses.

Just weeks before the July advisory, MSDH issued a separate citywide boil advisory on June 30 because of turbidity, which lasted a little over a week.

City officials have spent the last three days doing “investigative” samples to determine when it can resume official sampling, but so far there is no timeline.

Jackson also announced that MSDH issued two new licenses for workers at the O.B. Curtis plant on Tuesday, doubling the capacity for Class A operators at the facility.

READ MORE: With long-term Jackson water fix in mind, leaders ask the mayor: Where’s your plan?

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

JSU: Jackson water crisis highlights limitation of government


‘The wall people are running into’: For JSU student, city water crisis highlights limitation of government

Maisie Brown pulled her aunt’s army green Ford Edge onto I-55, heading north past the port-a-potties outside the Hilton on County Line Road. 

The Jackson University junior was on a mission last Wednesday – two days after Gov. Tate Reeves declared a water emergency in Jackson – to deliver water to elderly and disabled people in the capital city. Her first stop was Academy Sports and Outdoors, a retailer in the plush city of Madison, to pick up nearly two dozen 24-packs of bottled water. 

That Brown had to trek outside the city limits to buy water is indicative of one of the many systemic issues at the heart of Jackson’s water crisis: The whiter, wealthier suburbs – recipients of population growth post-integration – aren’t dealing with the same crisis today.

“People look down on Jackson, but give it a decade,” Brown said before applying a light-pink shade of Victoria’s Secret lip gloss. “This is going to be everyone’s reality soon.” 

Like most people from the Jackson-metro area, Brown was rarely fazed by the city’s boil water notices, as typical as the crater-like potholes. The 22-year-old grew up seeing stacks of plastic water jugs in her grandparents’ house off State Street – “not because they like to drink water like a fish,” she said, “but sometimes you never know when it’s going to be on the and they tell you to boil water.” 

But Brown’s attitude changed on Aug. 29, when Reeves announced in an evening press conference that the city would be without clean, running water “indefinitely.” The pressure had dropped so low that many of Jackson’s 150,000 residents weren’t receiving water at all. 

In the coming days, the Mississippi National Guard would be staffing water distribution sites across the city – but getting there would require a car, a significant barrier in a state that has one of the lowest rates of car ownership in the country. 

That night, Brown realized it was unclear how, if at all, the state was planning to bring water to elderly and disabled folks who wouldn’t be able to drive to the distribution sites. So the student activist, known for her role in helping to coordinate the city’s largest protest since the movement, decided it was time to mobilize. She posted a call-out on social media for volunteers to help her deliver water. 

“The state has consistently ignored Jackson’s asks for help,” she said. “We are not high-priority for the people in power, because of the Black, poverty-stricken population that we are.”

Within 24 hours, Brown raised over nearly $2,500 (it’s more than $6,000 now) and assembled more than 20 JSU students to start the “MS Student Water Crisis Advocacy Team.” Together, they’ve delivered about 1,000 cases of water to more than 200 homes, organizing drop-offs via a shared spreadsheet.  

Marquise Hunt delivers water to a Jackson, Mississippi resident Tamela Davis on September 1, 2022.

Brown’s iPhone hasn’t stopped ringing since. That Wednesday morning, she got 14 calls: A Agency representative asked if she could include Brown’s number on a list of water distribution resources; a stranger requested a delivery for a friend with multiple sclerosis; several journalists from national media reached out for an interview.

Most calls were from Jacksonians who couldn’t get to the city and state distribution sites. Whether they offered an explanation or not, Brown delivered water. 

“If the government could do everything, then there’d be no nonprofit or grassroots organizations,” she said. “The whole structure of government, the way it’s built today, is not enough to help people. That’s the wall people are running into.” 

As Brown exited I-55, a 917 area code popped up on the Ford Edge’s dashboard. 

“Who is this from New York calling me?” Brown said. 

It was a producer from CNN – the first of five media calls Brown would receive that day on the temporary number she had created for the hotline. Before the producer could finish pitching Brown on a segment, she was interrupted by a Jacksonian who called the hotline for a water delivery. (Brown got so many calls from reporters last week that she had to post on Twitter asking them not to use the hotline.) 

“This is my phone all day long,” Brown said when she hung up. 

A few minutes later, she pulled into the shopping plaza where Academy was located and checked her phone, hoping they wouldn’t cancel her order like the in Byram had the day before.

Brown spotted two Academy workers wheeling cases of water on a blue platform dolly. She hopped out of the car to greet them, then popped the trunk. One of the workers stared at it for a second and frowned. 

“I know y’all are probably like who the f— is ordering 20 packs of water?” Brown said jokingly. 

“No, I get it,” he replied. “Y’all are good.” 

For Brown, a political science major, the water emergency has sparked big-picture questions about the role of government in a democratic society and who it really serves. The one-party state government doesn’t serve everyone in Mississippi, Brown said, because it was not elected by everyone. Black , more likely to vote Democratic, are also disenfranchised at higher rates than white people. 

“We’re a red state, but we’re a Black state too,” Brown said. “People forget that part.” 

This perspective has led Brown to push for change on an array of systemic issues in Mississippi, including the state flag that held the Confederate battle emblem, the “pink tax” on menstrual products, and the disproportionate impact of abortion bans on Black and low-income people. 

Brown said she views this work as a way of building a better world – an outlook she adopted after reading the “Faces at the Bottom of the Well,” a book by Derrick Bell.

“The work you’re doing is not in vain, but will be a model for a new society – a better one,” Brown said, paraphrasing the introduction by the lawyer Michelle Alexander. “That keeps me motivated.” 

On her way back from Madison, Brown stopped at her first drop-off, an orange-and-red apartment complex behind a car dealership on South Frontage Road. Two young men helped Brown carry the 29-lb packs of water cases to the front door. 

Then it was off to west Jackson, where Brown had two stops to make. The first was at a house with red trim on Maple Street near Lanier High School, the first high school built for Black kids in Jackson. The woman who lived there wasn’t home but worried someone might take the water cases, so she asked Brown to leave them behind the bushes next to her doorstep. 

Even though Brown is from Madison, she’s well acquainted with this part of the city – her dad’s side of the family used to own a restaurant here, but now it’s boarded up. Brown also went to school in the city, because her dad is a principal in Jackson’s school district. On the weekends, he’d go to block parties to meet the community, and she’d tag along. 

“It’s very rare that people who don’t live in Jackson try to go to school here,” she said. “It’s always the opposite way.” 

Indeed, the phenomenon that Brown is getting at – white flight – is another contributing factor to Jackson’s water crisis. The overgrown bushes and derelict buildings in west Jackson are an above-ground symptom of the billions in lost tax dollars as 71% of white residents have left since 1980. Beneath the city, the water lines are deteriorating just the same. 

Marquise Hunt (left) and Maisie Brown deliver water to a Jackson, Mississippi resident on September 1, 2022.

The temperature was starting to get hot and muggy. Outside the yellow duplex where Brown made her next delivery, a man was blowing cut grass off the sidewalk. Brown thought about delivering water to the next-door neighbor, but decided against it – a pitbull, panting in front of a silver water bowl, guarded the porch. 

As Brown turned to leave, he asked if she had enough cases for the neighboring house – if so, he’d call the man who lived there to ask. 

“How long y’all doing the water?” he asked.

“As long as the money comes in to keep doing more,” she replied. 

Brown’s last stop for the day was in North Jackson at a red brick house in a subdivision near Hope Spring Missionary Baptist Church, one of the oldest churches in Jackson, established in 1865 to serve freed slaves. A woman answered the door, revealing a large painting of a white, fluffy cat in the dim entryway. 

“You brought me some water,” she remarked. “I didn’t have any water. Thank you.”

Sitting in her car in the woman’s driveway, Brown took a moment to pause. She turned up the volume on “America Has a Problem,” her favorite song from Beyonce’s latest album, and thought about preparing for a TV interview that night. 

“Alright,” she said, “let me figure out some things while I’m at a stopping point.” 

Then her phone rang.

The images in this story are from Deep Indigo Collective, a visual storytelling resource supporting news outlets reporting on the local impacts of environmental threats and the climate crisis. As a 501(c)(3) organization, Deep Indigo is proud to produce original visual journalism on behalf of our editorial partners across the United States.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson water pressure improves Thursday, and state launches distribution sites


Jackson water pressure improves Thursday, and state launches distribution sites

In their first shared press conference since both declaring states of emergency for the city’s water system, Gov. Tate Reeves and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba detailed progress made in restoring pressure to residents on Thursday.

The Agency also launched seven “mega” distribution sites around the city at noon, working in conjunction with other agencies as well as 600 members of the National Guard.

Since the governor’s Monday announcement that Jackson’s water treatment plant would soon begin to fail, pressure coming out of residents’ taps has fluctuated significantly. With no true estimate on the number of homes impacted, the city said that most of the over 40,000 surface water connections saw low or no pressure after setbacks on Wednesday.

Optimal pressure at the O.B. Curtis treatment plant is 87 pounds per square inch (PSI). After falling on Monday, the pressure climbed back up to 80 PSI on Tuesday morning, before dropping back down to 40 PSI on Wednesday, the city said. Officials said Thursday morning that it was back up to 78 PSI.

Tempering expectations, Reeves told residents Wednesday to expect further setbacks in the coming days as the city and state — now aided by contractors assessing the plant — address the array of needed repairs at O.B. Curtis.

According to ’s daily action report, State officials had, as of Wednesday, completed assessments of both the conventional and membrane sides of the plant, and used those to make a priority list for improvements. They also installed a temporary pump, and fixed another pump at the city’s secondary plant J.H. Fewell.

In the report, officials reiterate that both O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell lack sufficient Class A operators and maintenance staff.

Asked on Thursday what repairs were at the top of the priority list, Reeves said he didn’t have a full answer, but that fixing sensors to detect the pH levels ranked highly. He also said that one of the failed pumps at O.B. Curtis — which contributed to the city’s water pressure dropping in early August — may be back online by early next week.

Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson said since Monday, 145,000 gallons of fresh water were pumped from the state fairgrounds into tankers to support the state health lab, the Jackson Medical Mall, and the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration.

MEMA executive director Stephen McCraney said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arrived in Jackson Thursday morning to assess the city’s pumps. Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell and State Forester Russell Bozeman added that their agencies are helping to enforce safety measures at the distribution sites as well as facilitate transporting water to the sites, respectively.

Lumumba later spoke to the fact he and Reeves were finally appearing at a press conference together.

“I believe that my representation here is a symbol of the unity that is taking place, a symbol of a coalition that is working arm in arm to ensure that we keep the most primary focus on the residents of Jackson,” Lumumba said.

In MEMA’s daily action report for Wednesday, the agency reported that O.B Curtis produced 5 million gallons of water from its conventional side, down from 14 million on Tuesday, and 12 million from the membrane side, down from 16 million on Tuesday.

Use this link to see the updated list of distribution sites. Residents unable to pick up water in person can call MEMA’s crisis line at 1-833-591-6362

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

State leaders meet privately to discuss long-term solutions for Jackson water crisis


State leaders meet privately to discuss long-term solutions for Jackson water crisis

While local, and federal officials scramble to restore the city of Jackson’s failed water system in the short-term, Mississippi state lawmakers and legislative leaders are meeting privately this week to discuss long-term solutions for the capital city’s collapsing system.

State officials knowledgeable of the deliberations agree that the immediate need is to restore an adequate flow to all parts of the city and end the need to boil water for drinking. But they also stress that much more is needed for a long-term fix for Jackson’s water system.

That fix will require legislation — both at the state level and perhaps on the federal level.

Members of Jackson’s legislative delegation met with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba Wednesday afternoon and planned to meet with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson Wednesday night to discuss possible long-term solutions.

Thompson, who represents a large swath of the capital city, has vowed support of a workable plan to fix the water system. U.S. Rep. Michael Guest, who also represents a small portion of Jackson, said, “I am working in Congress to help find solutions and to put Jackson back on a pathway to being the capital city we need and deserve, but it is going to take a combined effort from leaders at all levels.”

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the only statewide Republican who owns a home inside the city of Jackson, has been meeting with Jackson lawmakers and other prominent state leaders since before the Jackson water system failed to brainstorm ideas for a permanent solution.

Various proposals have emerged in these talks over the past week, several people with direct knowledge of the deliberations told Mississippi Today. The ideas include:

  • Creating a “regional water authority” to the system, which also serves Byram and parts of .
  • Putting the city water system in a temporary conservatorship run by the state Public Service Commission, with the goal of passing the system back to city leaders after service has been restored.
  • Creating some new state entity or commission to take full, permanent control of the city’s water system.
  • Privatizing Jackson’s water system, leasing it to a private company that would manage it moving forward.

Hosemann said in an interview with Mississippi Today on Wednesday that he’s been “saddened and sickened” by the water crisis and watching it make national . He said a long-term fix for Jackson’s water and sewerage will be an expensive, “monumental task.” But he vowed: “We will have a plan, and we will put Jackson back on its water feet.”

Hosemann said the task now at hand for a long-term solution is for state, federal, city of Jackson and Hinds County leaders to “first get a cogent plan.”

But getting this large group of politicians to agree on one single plan hasn’t been accomplished after many years of effort. Any of the options currently being discussed would require Jackson giving up at least some autonomy and control of its water operations.

As recently as 2021, city leaders including Lumumba have bristled at state attempts to ride herd over the city. These efforts include an attempted state takeover of Jackson’s regional airport, the state requiring a special board to oversee infrastructure work funded by a special 1-cent city sales tax, and recently lawmakers requiring state oversight of federal pandemic stimulus money for water and sewerage projects — requirements that were not placed on other cities.

Lumumba has described such state attitudes toward the capital city as “paternalistic” and “racist.” There has been an icy relationship between the majority Black, majority Democratic capital city and the white Republican state leadership that runs most of state government from Jackson.

But Hosemann said he doesn’t foresee such issues hindering teamwork on solving the water crisis. He noted Lumumba this week said he welcomes state assistance dealing with the issue. Both Hosemann and Gov. Tate Reeves, who is leading the state’s response to the short-term crisis, said they’ve met with the mayor and the city’s legislative delegation in recent days.

This would appear to be progress, although it’s notable that Lumumba and other city leaders have been absent at Reeves’ and state leaders’ recent press conferences on emergency water operations and vice versa.

Lumumba addressed this in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve heard people say we’re having dueling press conferences,” Lumumba said. “That is not how I would characterize it.” He said he and Reeves are both trying to address the public “early and often” and are “leaning forward.” He said there is a “cooperative effort.”

A prevailing question about a state-sanctioned, long-term fix of the water system is whether the governor will call a special session soon or wait for the regular session in 2023 to address the water crisis.

Reeves recently said his primary focus is solving the immediate problem and that at some point legislators “would be able to weigh in a potential … long-term solution.” He said he had pledged to work with them on that solution.

Sen. John Horhn, a Democrat from Jackson, said waiting to the regular session “would give us time to come up with a strategy to determine what kind of system it will be (moving forward) and who will own it.”

Horhn said, “If state officials are going to provide a significant portion of the resources, we are going to want a say” in the operation of the system.

The mayor has estimated that solution would cost more than $1 billion.

Rep. Earle Banks, a Democrat from Jackson, told Mississippi Today on Wednesday he and several other Jackson lawmakers support potential legislation that would place the city’s water system in a conservatorship “under the auspices of the three-member Public Service Commission.” The PSC could contract with outside companies to help run the system while the multiple problems were addressed. Then at some point down the road, the operation of the system would be returned to Jackson city government.

The PSC, which regulates most utilities in the state, currently has no authority over the Jackson water system. The PSC could petition a court for an order to take over a rural system facing similar issues.

Hosemann on Wednesday mentioned the regionalized water authority idea. He said the state “has a history with regional water authority” on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane ’s destruction of numerous water systems. He said Jackson’s system could be considered regional because it already serves the city of Byram and parts of Hinds County.

Some of those Coast systems at the time of Katrina had been in disrepair and struggling, and the creation of a six-county regional authority was required to qualify for federal money to not just replace them, but rebuild them bigger and better.

However, there was great infighting among cities and counties wanting to control their own water systems, and in the end, the Coast regional authority passed by lawmakers in 2006 was really regional in name only, and the legislation also created six separate county authorities, allowed any who wanted to opt out, and allowed cities to mostly run their own systems.

Hosemann said he wrote a letter last week to Jackson and Hinds County elected leaders urging them to put up all they can of the combined $87 million they received in federal pandemic stimulus money. The this year passed a program to match any such spending on water and sewerage 1-to-1 with federal money the state received.

The city has planned to earmark $25 million of its money, and Hinds County leaders have discussed pledging about $8 million. Both have earmarked millions of their funds for other things. Hosemann said they should reconsider this, and put more of it up for the state infrastructure match, and use it to address Jackson’s water issues.

“I will be greatly disappointed if they don’t spend more of it on this,” Hosemann said. He said the state also still has $345 million of its pandemic funds it hasn’t spent. He said he’s also hopeful that the federal government will help with funding for solving Jackson’s crisis.

Some members of Jackson’s legislative delegation are beginning to publicly acknowledge that the city handing over at least some control to the state is a necessity.

“To get the money the state controls, I expect state leaders to insist on changes to the Jackson water system,” state Sen. David Blount, a Democrat from Jackson, said in social media post. “I am open to any discussion, provided that it 1) must include significant money that is sufficient to fix the problem and 2) protects the citizens, especially low income citizens, with fair water rates. If we can convince the governor and state legislative leaders to spend what is needed to fix our water system, we must say YES. Inaction and complaints are not an option.”

“I especially want to point out that this problem is bigger than Jackson,” Blount continued.

Banks, the state representative, said there are three issues facing Jackson’s water and sewer infrastructure. They are:

  • The immediate problem of the water treatment plants failures caused by a number of factors, including recent and the inability of the city to properly staff the plants.
  • The aging distribution system, which consists of 1,500 miles of pipes, some 100 years old, that often break, especially during extreme cold weather. Break in February 2021 during a winter storm resulted in a prolonged citywide water failure.
  • Wastewater issues that have resulted in the city dumping millions of tons or raw sewage into the Pearl River or its tributaries.

All of those issues have placed the city in the crosshairs of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, the recent lack of water pressure in many parts of the city has resulted in issuing a federal disaster proclamation.

On Wednesday, Lumumba said he spoke with both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, both of whom assured him there will be federal help.

“They both assured me that we will have the full arm of support from the federal government in any possible way we can help,” Lumumba said.

That federal aid will provide the state and city technical assistance through the Corps of Engineers to help ensure the water pumps are operational.

In addition Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley of Nettleton announced Wednesday that the National Association of Water Companies, a group of the nation’s largest water utilities, “are willing to provide free technical assistance with boots on the ground.” Presley said he would be “connecting” the group with the Agency.

While local, state and federal leaders begin to draw battle lines over a permanent fix, the water system’s failure has spurred unprecedented state and federal level conversations about long-term solutions.

“We will not fail at this,” Hosemann said on Wednesday. “We’ve faced catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina as a neighborhood. Mississippi is a neighborhood, and 200,000 of our citizens are in trouble. We are going to get central Mississippi back on its feet.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson water crisis has especially high stakes for kidney patients


‘They need this in order to live.’ For kidney patients, the Jackson water crisis has especially high stakes

Thousands of Jacksonians with kidney failure rely on clean water to power the dialysis treatments that keep them alive. As the city’s water system collapses, dialysis providers have brought in tanker trucks full of water to ensure patients don’t have to miss their treatment.

Lack of access to clean water also creates risks for patients who perform their dialysis treatments at home– and puts kidney patients at greater danger of health consequences from impure water.

On Tuesday afternoon, Derek Whitaker pulled into the parking lot of the Jackson Medical Mall, towing a 6,000 gallon tank full of water from Broussard, Louisiana. A tanker truck from Missouri was already hooked up to a pump that was delivering water into the mall, which houses a dialysis unit.

Whitaker, who works with the disaster response company Macro, has traveled the country providing relief after hurricanes and tornadoes. Now, he and at least two colleagues have come to Jackson to deliver life’s most basic necessity – and one that is even more essential for people with kidney failure.

One dialysis nurse told Mississippi Today that about six weeks ago, her clinic brought in a tanker truck full of water because of pressure fluctuations. The dialysis process requires about 10 gallons a minute, she said. The clinic first needed to use the tanker truck about two weeks ago.

“They need this in order to live,” said the nurse, who requested not to be identified by name because she was not authorized to speak to the media. “And they would not live more than—some people a few days, some a week without dialysis … to have a city that doesn’t have water is just unconscionable to me. I don’t understand how it ever got to that.”

Mississippi has one of the country’s highest rates of kidney failure. More than 9,000 are living with end-stage kidney disease, meaning their kidneys have essentially stopped functioning. Black Americans are roughly three times likelier than white Americans to develop kidney failure.  

In Jackson, the rate of kidney disease is 26% higher than the national average, according to the Mississippi Kidney Foundation. And Mississippians have the highest mortality rate from chronic kidney disease of any in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dialysis is a medical procedure that acts as an artificial kidney. The patient’s blood is diverted into a machine where it passes through membranes that waste before returning it to the body. Patients can do dialysis at home after they have been trained in the process, or visit a clinic or hospital three times a week for about four hours.

A reliable water source is generally essential for dialysis, which can require 300 to 600 liters of ultra-clean water during a single week. The filtration systems clean the water – ordinary tap water isn’t clean enough for the process – but if the local water source isn’t producing water quickly enough, the process can’t work.

According to the health department, no dialysis centers in Jackson have had to close as of Wednesday. But almost all of them have had to make costly adjustments to continue operating. On Tuesday afternoon, officials said it still wasn’t clear when Jackson will have clean, abundant drinking water.

Fresenius Medical Care, the largest dialysis company in the city with four Jackson locations providing in-center treatment, said it had brought in tanker trucks for three of their facilities. At its southwest Jackson location, the truck has been in place for about a month or longer because of issues with water quality and pressure, said Richi Lesley, Mississippi regional vice president.

“It comes at a great expense,” he said. “The resources of getting a tanker truck in place, getting the tanker truck filled, having them on-site for the hours to set and support –  when you do think about in terms of how many shifts we’re operating at each of the facilities and each individual patient shift is normally around four hours, so it’s a lot of water.”

Lesley declined to specify how much each truck costs the company.

“If we gave the number, I think a lot of people would be running out trying to get in the tanker truck business,” he said.

The north Jackson Fresenius location still has water, he added, but a tanker truck is in position in case that changes.

A fourth Fresenius facility located inside St. Dominic Memorial Hospital uses the hospital’s independent water system.

Fresenius serves 500 to 600 patients in Jackson, Lesley said.

DaVita, Inc. operates three Jackson locations, two of which have been affected by the water crisis, said Chris Price, division vice president at DaVita, who oversees Mississippi operations. The company implemented “emergency water solutions” on Tuesday morning.

“These solutions include water from sources outside of Jackson that will remain subject to our full treatment and quality testing procedures,” Price said. “We will keep these emergency measures in place until confidence in the reliability of city water sources is restored.”

The water crisis also threatens Jacksonians’ ability to safely access dialysis at home because that process requires careful attention to hygiene, said TJ Mayfield, executive director of the Mississippi Kidney Foundation. Mayfield is a former dialysis patient who received a kidney transplant in 2019.

“If you don’t have water to flush, if you don’t have water to drain out your dialysis that you’re doing overnight or home dialysis, how do you clean it properly?” Mayfield said. “How do you make sure you wash your hands properly so that you don’t catch an infection? All of that plays a large factor into home dialysis.”

Mayfield said clean drinking water is critical for people with kidney conditions — and to ensure healthy people don’t develop kidney issues. When clean drinking water isn’t available or costs the same as soda, he pointed out, people are likelier to choose sugary drinks. He is working to distribute bottled water to dialysis patients in Jackson.

Valerie Bailey, a nurse practitioner with more than a decade of experience working with kidney patients in Jackson, said people with kidney issues are also more vulnerable to health problems from unclean water.

“Any renal patient has to be extremely diligent about keeping up with their fluid intake, because their kidneys are unable to properly filter out excess fluids,” Bailey said. “If they do not have clean water, then their body, their kidneys are not going to be able to filter out those impurities in the contaminated water, like a normally functioning kidney might be able to.”

Dialysis providers who spoke with Mississippi Today said they are experienced in disaster response, not only because industry standards require it, but also because Jackson has seen this before.

During the 2021 ice storm that crippled the city’s water system, Fresenius worked with () to ensure tanker trucks full of water could reach their clinics.

Whitaker, who came to the Medical Mall from Louisiana with the water tanker, drove around southern Louisiana after Hurricane Ida and to Kentucky after the devastating tornadoes earlier this year. The combat veteran often carries fuel to help people power generators after losing power.

“We kind of get out and see the countryside a little bit when there’s a disaster,” he said. He didn’t think much about the nature of the disaster — long-running and manmade — that had brought him to the mall parking lot.

“To me, it’s my job,” he said.

Whitaker said he doesn’t know how long he will be in Jackson. He’ll sleep in his truck and shower at the facility where he will refill the tanker, somewhere outside of town.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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