The governor said he will declare a state of emergency for the state’s largest city and clamber for state authorities to begin distributing water to 180,000 residents.
“It means we don’t have reliable running water at scale. It means the city can’t produce enough water to fight fires, reliably flush toilets and meet other critical needs,” Reeves said.
Authorities said the water is not safe to drink or use while brushing teeth.
“Please stay safe. Don’t drink the water. In too many cases, it’s raw water from the reservoir being pushed through the pipes,” Reeves told the Jackson residents. “Be smart, protect yourself, protect your family.”
Residents are told to conserve the water sources they have and boil water they use for three minutes.
The state is expected to call in the National Guard to help distribute drinking and non-drinking water while crews work to get the water treatment plant back online, state officials said.
“Replacing the running water infrastructure in our largest city with human distribution is a hugely complicated logistical task,” Reeves said. “We need to provide it for up to 180,000 people for an unknown period of time.”
In addition to preparing to distribute water to residents, the state is in the process of setting up a tanker system to supply water to fire trucks as Jackson is no longer able to get water from fire hydrants, officials said.
A system that has long been plagued with problems
The problem stems from one of two water treatment plants in the city, the OB Curtis plant, which is run by the city of Jackson, the governor said. “OB Curtis isn’t working anywhere near capacity. And maybe tomorrow we’ll find out it isn’t working at all,” Reeves said.
OB Curtis aims to provide approximately 50 million gallons daily for the city. The other plant, which usually supplies about 20 million gallons a day, has been approved to ramp up production amid the shortage, authorities said.
The main pumps at OB Curtis were badly damaged, and the facility began operating smaller backup pumps about a month ago, around the same time that a lengthy boil water message began, the governor said.
The governor said he was told Friday that “it was almost certain that Jackson would not produce running water sometime in the coming weeks or months if something didn’t improve substantially,” the governor said.
Over the weekend, state officials began developing plans for water distribution and “preparing for a scenario where Jackson would be without running water for an extended period of time.”
“All of this was with the prayer that we would have more time before their system failed,” Reeves said. “Unfortunately, that failure seems to have started today.”
“As one crisis can be diverted, another emerges,” Lumumba said at a news conference after dealing with the city’s flooding.
The mayor said that because OB Curtis received additional water from the reservoir during the flood, the facility had to change the way the water is treated, which has resulted in less water in the system and lower tank levels. This will affect water pressure in residents’ homes, he said.
“It’s no secret to any of us that we have a very vulnerable water treatment plant,” the mayor said, adding that the outage “could potentially last a few days.”
In addition to the infrastructure problems, the factory has also had to deal with personnel problems, according to the mayor and governor.
“A far too small number of heroic frontline workers did their utmost to keep the system together, but it was almost impossible,” the governor said.