MS Governor: Federal officials could soon join state in efforts to get Jackson’s water crisis under control

The news comes as state officials provide updates on response efforts.
Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 4:32 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Governor Tate Reeves and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency provided updates on response efforts at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant.

On Monday night, Gov. Reeves held an emergency press briefing urging Jackson residents not to drink the tap water from their homes following the city’s main water treatment plant failing.

Less than 24 hours after that briefing, Gov. Reeves announced that the federal government could soon join the state and the city in helping get Jackson’s water crisis under control. The governor asked the president and FEMA to declare the situation a federal emergency Tuesday.

At Monday’s briefing, the governor described the severity of the situation, saying that “in too many cases, it is raw water from the reservoir being pushed through the pipes.” However, officials clarified that those comments were not necessarily accurate during the press briefing today.

“As far as raw water, there are filters, whether you’re on the membrane side or whether you’re on the conventional side, they do settle a good bit of the water out,” said Jim Craig with the Mississippi Department of Health. “So I wouldn’t say it’s exactly raw water from the reservoir. But obviously, since the chemistry was not in balance, it was not properly or optimally treated for consumption.”

The governor, along with officials during the press briefing, doubled down on residents boiling their water for three minutes before drinking. However, the Mississippi State Department of Health advises residents to boil their water for at least one minute before consumption. Officials added that the water is safe to bathe in.

As far as a timeline on when Jackson residents would be able to drink their water without boiling it, Gov. Reeves said he could not give a concrete answer but did say officials are looking for two consecutive days of 120 samples to come back clean.

After the Department of Health’s preliminary assessment of the plant, experts say a lot of things could still break due to a combination of staffing issues and a lack of regular maintenance, as a result. Officials say they are working with MEMA to get a total of 12 Class A operators to the city and divide them up equally between the O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell water treatment plants.

Governor Reeves says the state rented a pump that will push out an additional four million gallons of water per day. Crews hope to get it online tomorrow. Due to the magnitude of this crisis and the need to buy new pumps, naturally, it would cost a lot of money — something the governor addressed at today’s briefing.

“I don’t want to put a price tag on it. I don’t think it’ll be more than either of those numbers [$30 million, $50 million] based upon what our current projections are,” Gov. Reeves said.

According to the governor, the plan that was presented to Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba with respect to a 50/50 match was due to the state’s policy in regard to ARPA funds. That policy requires $1 of local funds and $1 of state funds.

“Some of these things are going to have to be navigated throughout the process,” the governor said. “We have our procurement people as well as our financial people working to ensure that we identify the best way in which to fund these expenditures.”

The governor could not give a definitive answer on how many households are without water at this time. However, he did explain that five of the ten tanks that serve the O.B. Water Plant had very low water levels.

What this means for residents is that if you are near one of those five tanks, it is likely that your water pressure is low. 3 On Your Side is working on a map to show where those water tanks are.

Even though the city is distributing water to residents, with a population of 151,000, it is nearly impossible for every resident to receive water. The governor says officials are working with the EPA on expanding the distribution away from just fire stations to address the concern.

“Many of these fire stations, while they are geographically diverse throughout the city; they’re not ideal locations in terms of having moving many automobiles through. The second reason for that is obviously if automobiles are coming through the fire station and there’s an actual fire; it’s hard to actually get the fire unit out to go fight the fires,” said Gov. Reeves.

MEMA says ten tractor-trailer loads of water are expected to get to the city Tuesday. Additionally, the agency says 108 semi-trucks of water will arrive over the next few days.

MEMA plans to distribute 36 truckloads of water per day to residents. The agency says the National Guard is mobilized and is assessing the sites they will be working out of. Those distribution sites will be announced prior to Thursday at noon, when distributions are expected to begin.

The governor says the city is making progress but says that the situation is not going to be solved immediately.

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