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State of emergency in Jackson, Mississippi due to low water pressure after heavy rains

Water emergency declared in Mississippi capital
Water emergency declared in Mississippi capital 03:10

Jackson, Miss. — Mississippi's capital city is grappling with multiple water problems. Tens of thousands of Jackson residents were without running water Tuesday after flooding exacerbated longstanding problems in one of two water-treatment plants.

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

The White House announced late Tuesday night that President Biden had approved Reeves' request for a federal emergency declaration. 

The declaration authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to "coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures," the White House said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, Reeves also said the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will start distributing both drinking water and non-potable water, and he activated the National Guard to help.

The city of 150,000 had already been under a boil-water notice for a month because the Health Department found cloudy water that could cause digestive problems.

During a Tuesday press conference, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said that the city is thrilled to be getting support from the state after battling "the Jackson water crisis" alone for the past two years. He said it had been a matter of when the system would fail — not if.

Lumumba expressed frustration that there was no previous long-term commitment from officials to replace or upgrade Jackson's water system. He estimated that it would take about $1 billion to fully improve the system.

Severe Weather
Floodwater from the Pearl River covered the parking lot at the Mississippi Basketball and Athletics Complex in Jackson, Miss., ON Aug. 29, 2022. Rogelio V. Solis / AP

Lumumba, a Democrat who wasn't invited to the Republican governor's news conference, said Monday that low water pressure could last a few days, but by Tuesday he said some customers were regaining service.

"We have seen steady improvements in the system," Lumumba said.

Meanwhile, the governor said Monday he understands people in Jackson are unhappy with the water system problems.

"I get it. I live in the city. It's not news that I want to hear," Reeves said. "But we are going to be there for you."

The low pressure raised concerns about firefighting and people's ability to take showers or flush toilets. However, Lumumba said Tuesday they have received no reports of firefighters having issues with water supplies.

A swollen Pearl River flooded streets and at least one home in Jackson on Monday, days after storms dumped heavy rain, but water levels were starting to recede. Lumumba said the water didn't rise as high as expected. Earlier projections showed about 100 to 150 buildings in the Jackson area faced the possibility of flooding.

The National Weather Service said the Pearl River had crested at about 35.4 feet, short of the major flood stage level of 36 feet.

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

State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney said neighbors should boil their water for one minute before drinking it, the station notes.

Jackson public schools switched to remote learning Tuesday as a result of the water problems, WJTV reported.

Jackson has had longstanding problems with its water system. A cold snap in 2021 left a significant number of people without running water after pipes froze. Similar problems happened again early this year, on a smaller scale. The city has been under a boil-water notice since late July because tests found a cloudy quality to the water that could lead to health problems.

Legislative leaders reacted with alarm to Jackson's latest water system problems.

"We have grave concerns for citizens' health and safety," Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said in a statement Monday, suggesting the state take a role in trying to solve the issue.

The Republican House speaker, Philip Gunn, said he has been contacted by hospitals, businesses and schools "pleading that something be done to address the water crisis in Jackson."

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

"We stand ready and we are eager to assist further as soon as we receive an official request from the state," she told reporters aboard Air Force One. She said the state has not asked FEMA for help with trucking in drinking water, and declined to say why.

"I cannot speak for the state of Mississippi. You would have to ask them," she said. Jean-Pierre said White House officials have been in contact with local officials and the state Health Department, but had no details about calls between President Joe Biden and local or state officials. 

The Mississippi flooding was less severe than flooding that caused death and destruction in Kentucky last month. Those floods left at least 39 dead and robbed thousands of families of all their possessions. Nearly a month later, residents are wrestling with whether to rebuild at the place they call home or to start over somewhere else. 

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