“We made some positive gains within the system. We are encouraged,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in a news conference Thursday.
The rental pump installed Wednesday at the treatment plant will help add 4 million more gallons of water a day into the system, authorities believe. The state also contracted with outside operators to begin work on critical emergency repairs.
But even if fixes are made, service has fluctuated. “There will be future interruptions … they are not avoidable at this point,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said during a Wednesday news conference, in which he also urged residents not to drink the water without boiling it.
The treatment plant sends treated water to above-ground tanks spread across the city, and those tanks — which send water to homes and businesses — are supposed to be full for optimal pressure, Reeves has said. Failure of the plant’s pumps led tank levels to drop.
“We are hopeful that we will be able to increase the quantity of the water which will ultimately get the tanks more full and ultimately lead to a scenario in which we can do the proper testing and actually produce clean water,” the governor said Wednesday. “But we’re not there yet.”
The sites, staffed by the National Guard, include the state fairgrounds and Hinds Community College and for now, will be open daily from 9 am to 6:30 pm, he said.
Daily life upended in Jackson
While authorities rush to make repairs, get needed parts and deal with staffing shortages at Jackson’s water plants, the crisis is upending daily life.
Residents are seeing cloudy, discolored water coming out of their faucets and are being told it should be adequate for sanitation purposes. They can’t use the water to drink, cook or wash dishes, but they can shower and wash their hands in it, officials said.
“Please make sure in the shower that your mouth is not open,” Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection at the Mississippi Department of Health, told residents Wednesday, adding pets should also not consume the water.
According to the mayor, it’s unknown when residents will no longer have to boil water, and that can’t be assessed until the water pressure returns to normal.
Residents have endured long lines to get bottled water and non-drinking water at distribution sites operated by the city. Some sites this week ran out of water and turned people away.
Jackson resident Anita Shaw, 63, arrived early Thursday at a site where the Salvation Army was to distribute bottled water — a site the group says ran out of 2,700 cases a day earlier before everyone in a long line could get one.
Shaw expressed frustration: Residents have been without clean water service for more than a month; not everyone can afford to keep buying bottles, and lines for free water are long. Water coming from her faucet Thursday was light brown, she told CNN.
She still had to pay her $100 water bill, she said.
“I paid $100 … and can’t use the water,” Shaw said. “What good is paying the water bill when you can’t use the water?”
All Jackson public schools shifted to virtual learning Tuesday. Jackson State University also shifted to online classes this week and set up portable showers and toilets across campus.
“It’s like we’re living in a nightmare right now,” sophomore Erin Washington told CNN. Another student described seeing brown, smelly water coming out of faucets on campus.
Businesses — many still trying to recover from Covid-19-related setbacks — are also struggling. Most affected is the city’s hospitality industry, said Jeff Rent, president and CEO at Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership.
“Hotels and restaurants, already on thin margins, either cannot open or they have to make special accommodations including the purchase of ice, water and soft drinks,” Rent said.
President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Jackson, and Reeves said it will allow Mississippi to tap into critical resources to respond to the crisis.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell will head Friday to Jackson, CNN has learned.
Longer-term fixes are needed
City officials and Reeves’ office have not responded to CNN’s requests for details about the damage and the causes.
Intake water from a reservoir was impacted by the heavy rainfall, creating a chemical imbalance on the conventional treatment side of the plant, Craig said Wednesday. This affected particulate removal, causing that side of the plant to be temporarily shut down and resulting in a loss of water distribution pressure.
Even with the installation Wednesday of the temporary pump, substantial mechanical and electrical issues remain due to deferred maintenance, including various pumps and motors that must be replaced and sludge in basins that has accumulated to levels that are “not acceptable,” Craig said.
Staffing issues have further complicated matters, officials said.
In July 2021, the EPA and the city entered into an agreement to address “long-term challenges and make needed improvements to the drinking water system.” The EPA also recently announced $74.9 million in federal water and sewer infrastructure funds for Mississippi.
Asked Wednesday about claims that the deterioration of the water infrastructure in Jackson is a result of environmental racism, Reeves said the state does not run the water systems.
“In the state of Mississippi, we have a large number of municipalities that run their own water system. We have a large number of rural water associations that run their own water system. Prior to Monday of this week, the state of Mississippi runs exactly zero water systems,” he said.
CNN’s Amy Simonson, Melissa Alonso, Amara Walker, Isabel Rosales and Amir Vera contributed to this report.