‘Won’t be solved overnight’: Gov. Tate Reeves gives update on Jackson water crisis
Tractor-trailer loads of bottled water are rolling in, the state is rounding up some private contractors and a rented emergency pump should be running by Wednesday morning, but Gov. Tate Reeves said he can’t say when Mississippi’s capital city will have clean, plentiful drinking water on tap again.
“After the briefing I just received, things are not significantly worse today than they were yesterday,” Reeves said Tuesday afternoon after meetings at the city’s O.B. Curtis treatment plant and talking with Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “They’re not significantly better, but we are seeing some progress and have some plans in place to see some more progress.”
The state, city and Mississippi’s health department all declared states of emergency Tuesday and Reeves called on President Joe Biden to declare a federal one after announcements Monday that Jackson’s main water treatment plan was failing — again — after decades of neglected maintenance and recent flooding from the Pearl River.
Thousands of homes and businesses in the capital city have little or no running water, and that after a month of residents being warned to boil it before drinking and years of warning that it contains harmful contaminants.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, health department and even National Guard are mobilizing to help with the issue. Reeves said the focus right now is getting drinking and non-potable water to residents and makeshift repairs to the plant. He vowed to work with the city and state lawmakers after to find more permanent solutions, but wouldn’t speculate what those might be. The current crisis — after a near citywide outage for weeks in 2021 after winter storms — has renewed calls for state intervention or even a take-over of the system.
Reeves and Craig said that as fixes are made at the plant, there is concern other things will break because of neglected maintenance — and the plant lacks “redundancy” and staff.
Reeves said Tuesday it was impossible to say how many of the roughly 160,000 people served by the system are without water — that it depends on how close one is to a water tank, elevation and numerous other factors. But Jim Craig, director of health protection for the state health department, said that the O.B. Curtis plant, rated for 50 million gallons of water a day, on Tuesday was only pushing about 30 million gallons. But, he said, some headway was made in filling water tanks to increase pressure. Officials said that of 10 tanks on the system, about half are at extremely low levels.
While he would not speak to long-term solutions, Reeves said that in addition to Lumumba, he also spoke with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, House Speaker Philip Gunn and members of the city’s legislative delegation and vowed to work with them on long-term fixes once the current crisis is in hand. Lumumba in a presser earlier Tuesday said the city has struggled “alone” for years with infrastructure issues and “we are excited to finally welcome the state to the table.”
This would appear to be progress in what 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.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Stephen McCraney at the O.B. Curtis briefing said the state’s emergency team had been checking on 71 care facilities across the city making sure patients were OK and worked to secure drinking and non-potable water and water for firefighting. He said 10 tractor trailer loads of drinking water arrived Tuesday, and 108 more truckloads are en route. He said that by Thursday at noon, there will be seven “mega distribution sites” set up citywide that will be able to distribute 36 truckloads of water a day.
McCraney said Anheuser-Busch, Walmart, Sav-A-lot and other companies are donating water and that volunteer organizations are offering help. Those who want to help can email email@example.com for more information.
Reeves was questioned by press at the briefing about conflicting city and state statements or info, including Reeves’ statement Monday night that “raw” water from the Ross Barnett Reservoir had been pumped through the drinking water system. At his presser earlier Tuesday, Lumumba said this was inaccurate.
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Craig said, “There was water that was not optimally treated, is probably a more accurate way to put it.”
Reeves said, “Sometimes the answer is both-and, rather than either-or … It was somewhere between raw and not clean — which is not ideal.”
Reeves reiterated to Jacksonians: “Do not drink the water. To be clear, do not drink the water at this time.”
Craig clarified that people can drink the water after boiling it (the health department recommends a rolling boil of at least one minute), but should not consume it without boiling. He said it’s OK to bathe in it, but “don’t open your mouth while you’re in the shower,” and be especially careful that infants and those with compromised immune system don’t consume un-boiled water.
READ MORE: Here’s where to get water in Jackson