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Water pressure returns to Jackson amid crisis

Residents in Mississippi's capital city were still under a boil-water notice as students returned to classes for the first time since last week.
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Water pressure has increased in Mississippi’s largest city after a systemwide failure last week, but Jackson officials said stored water is lower than ideal, and they were hoping for no interruptions.

“This is part and parcel with what we’ve experienced at this very fragile water treatment facility,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said at a news conference Tuesday.

Jackson residents have faced a water crisis that on Aug. 29 included no running water because of problems at the city’s main facility, the O.B. Curtis Water Plant, following flooding of the Pearl River.

The city said Tuesday that water pressure should have returned to all of Jackson and that "most are now experiencing normal pressure."

Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency and said the state would help to expedite repairs, and President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration and pledged federal aid.

The crisis in Jackson highlighted the problems of long-neglected infrastructure. A cold snap in February 2021 froze machinery and pipes and cut many residents off from running water for weeks.

On Tuesday, students in Jackson returned to in-person classes after having switched to remote learning last week because of the water shortage, but water coming out of taps still needed to be boiled.

The district said that water tanks and pallets of water were delivered to all Jackson public schools and that if more were needed, staff members would boil water “as they have done previously under similar circumstances.”

“It was very frustrating,” Syreeta Tatum told The Associated Press as she waited to pick up her fourth grade child Tuesday at Spann Elementary School. “As a mother, you want to make sure your child is getting the best education possible, especially knowing that my child functions better in person.”

Spann Elementary School students board a school bus after a full day of in-school learning in Jackson, Mississippi, on Tuesday.Rogelio V. Solis / AP

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said Monday that because pressure had increased, it would close three distribution sites at schools but expand others. The agency said Monday that it had distributed almost 5 million bottles of water and had also sent water trucks.

The city said Tuesday that the O.B. Curtis Water Plant has maintained steady pressure but that the margin of water storage has decreased somewhat over the last 24 hours. If there were problems with the plant, customers could be affected, it said.

Lumumba said, “The safety net, if you will, that has built up has decreased and is diminished — and so that is why we’re prayerful that everything remains consistent and that we don’t see any challenges there.”

Lumumba said that while more permanent repairs are being done at the plant than have been conducted in the past, “there is still a significant road ahead.” 

"It’s not a matter of if these systems will fail again, but when these systems will fail again if we don’t have permanent fixes in place," he said.

The mayor and the governor have put the cost to fix the problems in Jackson at a billion dollars or more.

Jim Craig, the director of health protection for the state Health Department, said Monday that some of the water sampling needed before a boil-water notice could be lifted may begin midweek. Two rounds of sampling must come back clear before it can be lifted.