Avon population

Water everywhere, not a drop to drink

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Mississippi’s capital is grappling with multiple water issues — too much on the ground after heavy rains last week, and not enough clean water flowing through pipes for people to use it.

Parts of Jackson were without running water on Tuesday because flooding exacerbated longstanding problems at one of two water treatment plants. The town of 150,000 people had already been on a boil water advisory for a month because the Department of Health found cloudy water that could cause digestive problems.

Restaurant owner Derek Emerson told The Associated Press on Tuesday that water issues are “preventing us from doing business in Jackson, Mississippi.” Emerson and his wife, Jennifer, own the upscale Walker’s Drive-In, and he said they’ve spent $300 a day on ice and bottled water over the past month.

“I love doing business in Jackson and I love the people of Jackson,” Emerson said. “I just – I hate dealing with problems.”

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday night he was declaring a state of emergency for Jackson’s water system, and he issued the proclamation Tuesday. The state will try to help solve the problems by hiring contractors to work at the treatment plant, which was operating at reduced capacity with backup pumps after the main pumps failed “some time ago.” said Reeves.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said Jackson’s water system was troubled by understaffing and “decades of deferred maintenance.” He said the influx of water from the torrential rains had changed the chemical composition needed for treatment, which had slowed the process of draining water to customers.

Lumumba is a Democrat and was not invited to the Republican governor’s press conference on Monday evening. Although the two politicians are often at odds, Lumumba said Tuesday he was having productive discussions with the Mississippi Department of Health and Emergency Management Agency and was grateful for the help of the State.

Like many towns, Jackson faces water system issues that it cannot afford to address. Its tax base has eroded in recent decades as the population has shrunk – the result of the predominantly white flight to the suburbs that began after the integration of public schools in 1970. The city’s population is now over 80% black, with about 25% of its inhabitants living in poverty.

Low water pressure prevented some people from taking showers or flushing toilets and officials said the low pressure raised concerns for firefighting. Those who had tap water were told to boil it to kill bacteria that could make them sick.

Schools in Jackson held online classes Tuesday and some restaurants closed. Jackson State University has installed temporary restrooms for students, and Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders said the water crisis has left his players without air conditioning or ice in their training center. In a video one of his sons posted on social media, Sanders – also known as Coach Prime – said he wanted to move the players to a hotel so they could shower.

“We’re going to find a place to practice, find a place that can accommodate whatever we need and want to be who we want to be, and that’s dominate,” Sanders said. “The devil is a lie. He won’t get us today, baby.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday that the federal government stands ready to help Mississippi respond to the water crisis.

She said the state did not request FEMA assistance with trucking drinking water and declined to say why. Jean-Pierre said White House officials have been in contact with local officials and the state health department.

President Joe Biden has approved a request for an emergency declaration for the state of Mississippi, directing his team to increase federal aid to the region, Jean-Pierre tweeted Tuesday evening.

“We are committed to helping the people of Jackson and upstate Mississippi in this time of dire need,” she said.

The problems at the water treatment plant came after the city appeared to largely avoid widespread flooding from a swollen Pearl River on days of heavy rain. A house flooded on Monday, but the mayor said the water did not rise as high as expected. Earlier projections showed about 100 to 150 buildings in the Jackson area were at risk of flooding.

The National Weather Service said the Pearl River crested below major flood stage of 36 feet (10.97 meters) on Monday. Parts of Jackson flooded in 2020 after the river rose above this level.

Jackson has two water treatment plants, and the largest is near a reservoir that provides most of the city’s water supply. The reservoir also has a role in flood control.

The mayor said Monday that low water pressure could last for a few days, but on Tuesday he said some customers had regained service.

“We have seen consistent improvements in the system,” Lumumba said.

Jackson has had longstanding issues with its water system. A cold snap in 2021 left a significant number of people without running water after pipes froze. Similar problems recurred earlier this year, on a smaller scale.

Lumumba said last week that repairing Jackson’s water system could cost $200 million, but on Tuesday he said the cost could “most likely be in the billions of dollars.” Mississippi is getting $75 million to fix water problems as part of a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Jackson resident Bernard Smith said he filled water containers Monday night in case his home lost service. He bought bottled water on Tuesday and said he hoped Jackson was on the right track to solving his water problems.

“Sometimes you have to go through hardships to get back on the right ship,” Smith said.

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Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed aboard Air Force One.