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Jackson back on water-boil order after freeze ruptures pipes

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports | December 28, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

A winter storm caused pipes to leak throughout the already-beleaguered water system of Jackson, Miss., and left residents of the capital city with little to no water pressure, according to social media posts from the city government.

Jackson's leaders put the city under a boil water notice early Sunday and the notice remained in place as of Tuesday afternoon. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba issued a state of emergency Monday night, citing "complications" at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant, and urged residents to report leaks.

The Democrat said Tuesday the city is dealing with a "worst case scenario."

Crews have spent days working to identify leaks, but city officials said pressure remains low or nonexistent. The Environmental Protection Agency is assisting with the effort to repair broken water lines, Lumumba said.

"We are dealing with an old, crumbling system that continues to offer challenge after challenge," he said.

The recent winter water problem highlights Jackson's systemic struggle with providing consistently safe water for customers. Federal officials say city leaders have mismanaged the water system in Jackson for a long time.

Tens of thousands of Jackson residents in the Mississippi capital were also left without running water for days during a cold snap in 2021, only for the water system to fail again in late August.

Jackson's water system is set to receive $600 million from the federal government after it was included in the $1.7 trillion spending package passed by Congress last week.

This summer, severe flooding caused much of the city of 150,000 residents to lose water for days, and a boil-water notice stayed in effect for more than a month.

Some residents took their own legal action in September by asking a federal judge for class-action status so they could sue the city together, The Washington Post reported at the time.

"This public health crisis, decades in the making, was wholly foreseeable by Defendants' actions," the filing said, "and has left Jackson residents in an untenable position -- without access to clean, safe water in 2022 in a major United States city."

The U.S. Department of Justice in November appointed a third-party manager of the city's water system, "taking action in federal court to address long-standing failures in the city of Jackson's public drinking water system," Attorney General Merrick Garland said at the time.

In Sun Belt cities like Jackson, water systems aren't standing up the tumultuous weather. Throughout the Deep South, hundreds of leaks from broken pipes were draining water towers faster than treatment plants could replenish them.

Jackson residents are commenting on official city social media posts with exasperation.

"I believe this might be the last straw for a lot of restaurants. They cant continue to boil water. The poor folks in south jackson are taking the brunt of this," one person wrote.

Another wrote: "Will there be reimbursement for hotel stay for families like mine? What about for water year round just to brush our teeth? Mr mayor, Mr Governor Mr President are you there? The capital city is suffering!"

Tekemia Bennett said she hasn't had any water since Friday. She and her four children woke up with no water on Christmas.

"Christmas was very much like the Grinch came and stole it. I could not cook for my children. It was more like we were in survival mode," Bennett said.

People flocked to water distribution sites set up by the city, but the lines were "as long as the eye could see," Bennett said. She got in line two days in a row before eventually giving up.

Flushing a toilet without any pressure requires large quantities of water, a hot commodity in Jackson. So she began to cover her toilet bowl with plastics bags and trash can liners.

"We are actually defecating in bags and tying them up and throwing them in the trash," Bennett said.

Information for this article was contributed by Ben Brasch of The Washington Post and by Michael Goldberg, Jeffrey Collins, Jeff Amy, Rebecca Reynolds and Jonathan Drew of The Associated Press.

Print Headline: Jackson back on water-boil order after freeze ruptures pipes


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