The state of Mississippi on Tuesday was scrambling to bring a long-neglected water treatment plant in its capital city back on line a day after it broke down, leaving about 180,000 residents without potable running water, possibly for days.
Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday evening declared a state of emergency for Jackson, with 150,000 residents, and surrounding communities where 30,000 more people live, warning residents not to drink the water.
“Until it is fixed, it means we do not have reliable running water at scale. It means the city cannot produce enough water to fight fires, to reliably flush toilets, and to meet other critical needs,” Reeves said, referring to the treatment plant.
Jackson, whose residents are more than 80% black or African American, according to US Census data, was already on a boil-water alert for a month.
Jeff Good, 58, owns a bakery, a pizza parlor and an Italian restaurant in Jackson. All three establishments were closed on Tuesday because of a lack of water pressure.
He had to tell his 210 employees to stay home, and in the restaurant business, he said, that means they don’t get paid.
“Their hours are canceled,” he said. “It’s a struggle and extremely stressful.”
The governor, a Republican, said state officials on Tuesday were to establish an incident command center at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant, which had been operating with smaller backup pumps after the facility’s main pumps were severely damaged.
Reeves said he learned on Friday that it was only a matter of time before the plant would fail to produce running water after years of poor operations and maintenance.
“Unfortunately, that failure appears to have begun,” he said, noting that state officials were working to fix the plant.
The state’s emergency management agency was in charge of distribution of bottled drinking water and tanker trucks for other water needs, he said, calling the operation a “massively complicated logistical task.”
Jackson Public Schools were closed on Tuesday as classes were moved online.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a Democrat, declared a water system emergency on Monday, saying the issue was caused by complications from the recent Pearl River flooding.
The floods created complications at the water treatment plant, which sits next to a reservoir that drains into the river just north of town, the city said in a statement. The water shortage was likely to last the next couple of days, it said.
In addition to the O.B. Curtis plant, which treats 50 million gallons (227,300 cubic meters) per day, the city operates the Fewell plant, whose normal production of 20 million was increased to 30 million gallons due to the situation.
The current crisis follows several episodes of disruption to the city’s water supply in recent years. In February, a pair of winter storms caused most residents in Jackson to briefly lose running water.
In 2016, customers were told of high lead levels in the city’s water supply caused by recurring faulty water treatment techniques. A year ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order saying the water supply could contain E. coli, according to Mississippi Today.