Jackson, Miss. water update: Residents have safe drinking water but unreliable treatment system

Lauren C. Moye, FISM News

On Thursday, the more than 150,000 residents of the Mississippi capital were released from a state-imposed boil water recommendation in late July, but that recommendation was just one of many problems for this aging water system.

The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) specified on September 15: “The water from the city of Jackson is now safe to drink. After testing by MSDH, the city’s boil water advisory was lifted. Before drinking tap water, run your taps for a few minutes to ensure clean water is being delivered.”

They originally placed the Consultation on July 28th after testing revealed increased turbidity or turbidity caused by increased sediment or other biological matter that “may indicate the presence of disease-causing organisms.”

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba shared the news but recalled that the system has not actually been fixed. He said on Twitter: “This is progress as we continue to work towards a consistent and reliable system.”

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While Jackson residents spent almost two months without access to safe drinking water, the crisis intensified after the Pearl River floods earlier this month overwhelmed the fragile pumps at OB Curtis’ waterworks, the main treatment facility for the area. This resulted in a further increase in turbidity and the shutdown of the plant to rework the treatment process to compensate.

The result was a loss of pressure. Running water became a trickle or non-existent in parts of the city.

This crisis was just a symptom of a much larger problem: an aging water system that has frequently failed Jackson residents over the years. The EPA Office of the Inspector General has launched an investigation which will investigate both state and local agencies to determine what led to this point.

This will follow a 2020 EPA investigation report into Jackson’s water system, which found water filters that had been broken for three years, “inoperable” equipment, insufficient staffing, and no monitoring for lead and copper either.

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On the same day that MSDH lifted the recommendation, they also tweeted a picture of a repair team installing two new pumps at OB Curtis.

While Democratic city mayors and Republican governors have traditionally pointed fingers at each other over who is responsible for the mounting problems, Jackson residents are being unfairly saddled with the consequences.

“For those I serve, almost all of whom are Black residents living in extreme poverty, water is the first domino to fall from paycheck to paycheck in their lives, over everyone else. Without clean water, schools went virtual,” said Aisha Nyandoro in an article she wrote for United States today.

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In 2019, 22.4% of Jackson residents lived below the poverty line, meaning jobs are essential. The closure of schools and daycares exacerbated the need to ensure clean water as residents have less access to paid vacation or remote work opportunities, Nyandoro said.

Additionally, the poorest residents do not have the money for technology and internet access to facilitate a child’s virtual learning, meaning school closures result in these children missing out on classes.

$450 million from Mississippi’s 2021 American Rescue Plan has been earmarked for water infrastructure improvements, but the application period has only recently begun.

It’s unclear how much of the $75 million in 2021 EPA funds earmarked for improving drinking water and sanitation systems went to Jackson.

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