Residents Without Safe Drinking Water in Jackson, Mississippi After Flooding, Treatment Plant Failure

The O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant in Jackson, Mississippi
The O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant in Jackson, Mississippi on Aug. 31, 2022. Brad Vest / Getty Images
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The failure of the main water treatment plant in Jackson, Mississippi, means 180,000 people in the capital city and its surrounding areas will be without reliable drinking water for the foreseeable future. Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency, while bottled drinking water and non-potable water to be used in toilets were distributed to residents by the city and state.

According to the city, problems arising from the flooding of the Pearl River were blamed for the failure of the treatment plant, reported Reuters. The governor said that while the cause was not known, the city-managed plant had been short-staffed and inadequately run for a long time.

“It’s been building up for years, but we have had an unprecedented amount of rain in the last two to three weeks, and it just kind of created this havoc,” said State Rep. Ronnie Crudup Jr., as CNN reported.

For the past month, the city has advised residents to boil their tap water before using it for things like washing dishes, brushing their teeth and cooking.

“Do not drink the water,” Reeves said in a news conference, as reported by Reuters. “In too many cases, it is raw water from the reservoir being pushed through the pipes.”

Running water could not be guaranteed by city officials, since the water pressure had dropped throughout the entire water system. Jackson’s water is supplied by two treatment plants operated by the city, the O.B. Curtis — which supplies 50 million gallons each day under normal circumstances — and the Fewell treatment plant — which treats 20 million gallons normally, but whose production has been expanded to 30 million gallons, according to officials.

The O.B. Curtis water treatment plant sits beside the Barnett Reservoir, which drains into the Pearl River. Recently, the pump motors at the plant failed. Backup pumps were being used, but those also stopped working earlier this week.

“Until it is fixed, it means we do not have reliable running water at scale,” Reeves said, as NPR reported. “It means the city cannot produce enough water to fight fires, to reliably flush toilets, and to meet other critical needs.”

The city has had a difficult time getting funding for infrastructure from the state. At least two measures with the goal of assisting with fundraising for repairs to the water system failed to pass in the legislature last year.

It has been estimated by Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba that updating the city’s infrastructure could have a price tag of $2 billion.

The demographics of Jackson have changed dramatically in the past few decades. From 1990 to 2020, the city’s population shrank from 200,000 to 160,000, due almost exclusively to white flight, according to CNN. In 1990, 56 percent of the city was Black, while 82 percent of residents were Black in 2020. The shrinking population, as well as the demographic shifts, have contributed to Jackson’s economic downturn.

President of the NAACP Derrick Johnson addressed Governor Reeves on Twitter.

“.@tatereeves, what are you waiting for!? We demand on behalf of the Jackson communities that you request federal aid from @FEMA and other agencies to ensure people have access to a basic human right: WATER,” read Johnson’s tweet. “Make the damn call. This is personal.”

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