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Reliable water service still days away for Jackson, Mississippi, residents, officials warn

An emergency pump was installed, and officials are working to restore normal pressure in the capital city before health inspectors can test what’s coming out of the faucets.

Crews installed an emergency rental pump at a water plant in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday in hope of restoring more service to the parched residents of the capital city, who may still be days away from reliable water service, officials said.

Although Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba tried to strike an optimistic note when he spoke to reporters, he listed locations and hours of bottled water distribution centers around the city — some opening this weekend, signaling the crisis will still be unfolding days from now.

The primary hope is to restore normal water pressure before health inspectors can test what's coming out of the faucets.

“We’re eager for that to happen, and we’re eager for some sense of normalcy to return to our residents,” he said.

It has been two days since Lumumba declared a water system emergency stemming from flood-related complications at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant.

The complications have resulted in widespread shortages of drinkable water, low pressure or no service at all in some areas.

Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency Tuesday, saying the Jackson water crisis threatens “critical needs” and has no end in sight.

"We are installing our emergency rental pump at Jackson's water plant," Reeves tweeted Wednesday with a picture of the work.

"Thank you to the operators, delivery teams, and experts on the ground who are making these repairs to restore water for the people of Jackson. More to be done, but the work is happening at an incredible pace!"

Despite the pump installation, state officials still told Jackson residents to expect spotty service.

"You are going to experience a fluctuation in water pressure while work is being done on the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant," the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said in a statement issued just before noon Wednesday. "This could mean no water at times."

Jackson, Mississippi water distribution
Members of the fire department and volunteers distribute water Tuesday at Hawkins Field Airport in Jackson, Miss.Imani Khayyam for NBC News

At one point overnight, the facility was pumping water at a near-normal 80 pounds per square inch, or psi, but it was down to 40 psi by the midmorning, the mayor said.

"The new pump at O.B. Curtis is in and it’s pumping, so we are grateful for that addition to the treatment process," Lumumba said.  "We did, however, experience some challenges at the plant last night."

He added: "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."

The state’s capital city, with about 150,000 residents, nearly 83% of whom are Black, has long been plagued by infrastructure issues that have made getting clean, reliable water a challenge.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a lengthy report in 2020 outlining major shortfalls in Jackson’s water system, which included a failure to replace lead pipes, faulty monitoring equipment and inadequate staffing.