Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is optimistic that water can be restored to residents this week, he told CNN on Wednesday. “But there is a huge mountain to climb to achieve that,” he added.
A rental pump installed at the treatment plant on Wednesday will help add 4 million liters of water per day more to the system, authorities believe. The state also contracted outside operators to begin critical emergency repairs.
“We are flushing bad water from the system and making mechanical improvements to prevent an even more catastrophic failure,” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said at a news conference on Wednesday.
But even as repairs are made, service fluctuates, and the governor warned, “There will be outages in the future…they’re unavoidable at this point.”
“Our number one priority is to have running water, even if we temporarily sacrifice some quality standards where absolutely necessary, to meet basic sanitation and safety needs,” Reeves said, urging residents not to drink the water without to cook it.
“We’re hopeful that we can increase the amount of water, eventually filling up the tanks and ultimately leading to a scenario where we can do the right tests and actually produce clean water,” the governor said. “But we’re not there yet.”
Daily life turned upside down in Jackson
As authorities rush to make repairs, obtain needed parts and resolve staff shortages at Jackson’s water plants, the crisis is turning everyday life upside down.
Residents see cloudy, discolored water coming from their taps and are told it must be suitable for sanitary purposes. They can’t use the water for drinking, cooking or washing dishes, but they can shower and wash their hands, officials said.
“Please make sure your mouth is not open in the shower,” Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection at the Mississippi Department of Health, told residents on Wednesday. Adding pets should also not consume the water.
According to the mayor, it is not known when residents will no longer have to boil water and that can only be assessed when the water pressure has returned to normal.
Meanwhile, all public schools in Jackson switched to virtual learning on Tuesday. Jackson State University also switched to online classes this week, installing portable showers and toilets across the campus.
“It’s like we’re living in a nightmare right now,” sophomore Erin Washington told CNN. Another student described how brown, smelly water came out of the taps on campus.
Businesses – many of which are still trying to recover from Covid-19-related setbacks – are also struggling. The city’s hospitality industry has been hit hardest, said Jeff Rent, president and CEO of Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership.
“Hotels and restaurants, which are already on small margins, either can’t open or they have to make special accommodations, including the purchase of ice, water and soft drinks,” Rent said.
A father of five, Kehinde Gaynor, said the water shortage is frustrating for his family.
“It’s devastating as a father because we’re taking care of the family. Right now we’re just crippled because we can’t control what goes on outside the house,” Gaynor said.
Residents had to endure long lines to get bottled and non-potable water at city-operated distribution locations. Some sites ran out of water this week and turned people away.
“Supersites” will run Thursday, making more water available to residents with help from the National Guard, the governor said.
Jackson resident Anita Shaw, 63, arrived early Thursday at a location where the Salvation Army would distribute bottled water — a location where the group says there were no more 2,700 cases the day before before everyone in a long line got one. could get.
Shaw expressed his frustration: Residents have been without clean water for over a month; not everyone can afford to keep buying bottles; and lines for free water are long. The water that came out of her tap on Thursday was light brown, she told CNN.
She still has to pay her $100 water bill, she said.
“I paid $100…and can’t use the water,” Shaw said. “What good is the water bill if you can’t use the water?”
President Joe Biden approved a declaration of emergency for Jackson, and Reeves said it will allow Mississippi to tap critical resources to respond to the crisis.
FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell is going to Jackson on Friday, CNN has learned.
Long-term solutions are needed
Inlet water from a reservoir was affected by the heavy rainfall, creating a chemical imbalance on the conventional treatment side of the plant, Craig said Wednesday. This affected the particulate discharge, causing that side of the plant to be temporarily shut down and the water distribution pressure to drop.
Even with the installation of the temporary pump on Wednesday, significant mechanical and electrical problems remain due to deferred maintenance, including several pumps and motors requiring replacement and sludge in basins that has accumulated to levels “unacceptable.” are, Craig said.
Personnel issues have further complicated matters, officials said.
In July 2021, the EPA and the city signed an agreement to “address long-term challenges and make necessary improvements to the drinking water system.” The EPA also recently announced $74.9 million in federal water and sewage infrastructure funds for Mississippi.
Asked Wednesday about claims that the deterioration of Jackson’s water infrastructure is the result of environmental racism, Reeves said the state does not control the water systems.
“In the state of Mississippi, we have a large number of municipalities that have their own water systems. We have a large number of state water associations that manage their own water systems. Prior to Monday of this week, the state of Mississippi is running exactly zero water systems,” he said.
Amy Simonson, Melissa Alonso, Amara Walker, Isabel Rosales and Amir Vera of CNN contributed to this report.