Lumumba and governor united in dealing with water crisis; mayor says the two are not having ‘dueling press conferences’

Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 4:57 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba says he and Gov. Tate Reeves are unified in their effort to restore water to the tens of thousands of customers impacted by the city’s latest water crisis, despite not appearing with him at press conferences on Monday and Tuesday.

“I’ve heard you know, the characterization that there are dueling press conferences between myself and the governor. That’s not how I would characterize it,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is present ourselves early and often.”

Wednesday, Lumumba gave an update on the city and state’s efforts to restore operations at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, after failures there led to the loss of water/water pressure for some 43,000 connections.

The mayor’s full press conference is below:

Currently, customers on both the city’s well-water and surface-water connections are under boil water notices. “we have a system-wide boil water notice right and so I think that is the most simplistic way to do that. I don’t want residents guessing whether they’re on well water or surface water,” he said. “But I can report that the well system is stable at this point in time.

While well water customers are stable, efforts are well underway to stabilize the Curtis plant.

“The new pump at O.B. Curtis is in and it is pumping,” he said. “So we are grateful for that addition to the treatment process. We did, however, experience some challenges at the plant last night with water chemistry. As you remember, this initially happened on Monday, due to the floodwaters. And they are still experiencing some challenges.”

Earlier this week, the Pearl River crested at more than 7 feet above flood stage, changing the chemical makeup of the water coming into the Curtis plant, the mayor explained. The plant brings in water from the Barnett Reservoir, which received a large influx of water due to precipitation upstream.

“Due to the chemistry of the water, we were at 80 PSI, but by mid-morning, we were back down to 40 PSI. What this has resulted in is that at this level, there are many surface water customers who may have experienced gains earlier in the week, who now have subsequently lost water pressure,” he said. “As you know, we have both the cooperation of not only our normal Public Works Crew that is in there... but we have the assistance of the Department of health that is there, present on [the] scene, trying to work out these challenges.”

Optimal pressure for the city’s water distribution system is 87 pounds per square inch. At that level, all customers in the capital city should have strong water pressure in their homes or businesses. The lower the pressure, the more likely it is customers will lose service. Many customers in Byram, South Jackson, and Fondren are without water Tuesday because of the drops in pressure.

Experts are hopeful pressure can begin improving Wednesday night, and that storage tanks can again begin refilling.

And while the mayor said no untreated water was pushed through the Curtis plant on Tuesday, he said some partially treated water had to be released on Wednesday.

“When we had the bad batch came in, the challenge that they had in retreating [that batch, along with] another batch of water was that the levels of water where they release [it] were so high that they had no place to release the water,” he said.

“This just simply means that we continue to ask residents to boil their water,” he said. “It is safe to take baths in it. It is safe to wash your hands. However, if you are drinking or cooking with it, we ask you to boil that water. If you’re washing your dishes, we ask that you boil the water in that circumstance to make certain that it is safe for you,” he added.

Meanwhile, Jackson’s water crisis has attracted attention from the highest levels of government.

Wednesday, Gov. Reeves announced that the “federal disaster declaration for Jackson water has been approved.”

“I had a call today I spoke extensively with the President and I had a separate call with the Vice President both assured me that the eyes of Washington are watching the city of Jackson, and they wanted us to know we should expect the full arm of support from the federal government in every way they possibly can,” Lumumba said.

“This will be implemented through both immediate measures through FEMA supporting the efforts of MEMA, to provide relief in the immediate timeframe with our residents. They assured me that their support was going to be demonstrated through long-range and long-term efforts through the EPA,” he said. " And so I was delighted to hear that call.”

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