JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Water pressure slowly improved in Mississippi’s capital on Friday, but officials outlined numerous challenges and occasional setbacks as they worked to restore running water from the city’s aging, neglected water system to everyone in the city of 150,000.
A small leak in an ammonia tank forced officials to shut down part of a water treatment plant late Thursday, Jim Craig, a state health official said Friday. Plant workers must constantly consider changes in sediment and chemical levels in water incorporated into the system after recent torrential rains and floods, Craig added.
“It’s like repairing the plane while you’re still flying,” Craig said at a Friday night news conference with Governor Tate Reeves.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba noted at a news conference that once pressure is restored, there are concerns about pressure on aging, brittle pipes.
And even if water flows again, it’s unclear when it will be drinkable.
Last week’s rains, followed by flooding from the Pearl River, exacerbated long-standing problems at the OB Curtis treatment plant, leading to a drop in pressure across Jackson, where residents had to order month-old cooking water due to bad weather. water quality.
The problems led Monday to an emergency statement from the Republican governor and a disaster statement from President Joe Biden. Biden’s infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu and Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell were in Jackson on Friday to get a first-hand look at the problem.
“This is a real testament to President Biden’s commitment,” Criswell said during an evening press conference with Reeves and other state officials. She toured the main water treatment plant with Reeves earlier in the day.
“Many are now experiencing normal pressure. Areas further from the factory and at higher elevations may still experience low to no pressure,” the city said Friday morning.
But between the setbacks, the pressure dropped a bit at one point as the treatment plant staff were dealing with chemical imbalances in the water, Craig said Friday night.
It’s all an ongoing burden on residents, such as 64-year-old Mary Gaines, a resident of a complex for seniors and people with disabilities.
“It is a very nice place to live. We just don’t have any water,” Gaines said. “And most seniors don’t have a car, so we have to get water where we can.”
During his press conference Friday, the Republican governor repeatedly emphasized what he called a united state, federal and local response to the crisis, ignoring any suggestion of a split with the mayor or president, both Democrats.
He thanked Criswell and Landrieu for the help, noting that Biden had “quickly signed a disaster declaration.” Lumumba was not invited to a Reeves press conference on Monday as the crisis was unfolding and he was not at Friday’s press conference. But he appeared earlier in the day with Reeves on a tour of an aquatic plant and was part of a press conference on Thursday.
Reeves declined to comment on comments Biden made to reporters at the White House late Thursday.
“We have offered everything available to Mississippi. The governor must act,” Biden told reporters. “There is money to solve this problem. We gave them EPA. We have given them everything there is to offer.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on Biden’s comments on Friday. She confirmed that Biden and Reeves have not spoken to each other about the crisis, but downplayed the lack of a phone call, saying there was “no need to move forward in this situation”.
Statewide, about $75 million is available specifically for water resources through a bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by Biden last year, Jean-Pierre said.
Biden was asked Friday if he would visit Mississippi and said he did not intend to. Biden said he has spoken to people in Mississippi, including Lumumba.
Residents in Jackson have long struggled with a faulty water system before the latest crisis.
The National Guard has been called in to help with water distribution. The state emergency service said nearly 2.8 million bottles of water were distributed from Thursday afternoon to Friday afternoon. Non-potable water, for toilet flushing and other uses, was also offered to people who brought their own containers to some locations.
At one point, the entire city was without water or with low pressure. Figures on how many homes and businesses had service repairs were not available.
McGill reported from New Orleans. Associated Press writers Michael Goldberg in Jackson, Rebecca Santana in New Orleans and Seung Min Kim in Washington contributed to this report.