JACKSON, Mississippi — After being forced to boil their water for nearly seven weeks before drinking it or using it to brush their teeth, residents of Mississippi’s largest city learned Thursday that the water from the faucet could be safely consumed — but Jackson’s water system still needs major repairs that the mayor says the cash-strapped town can’t afford on its own.
Governor Tate Reeves and Jackson officials said in separate announcements that the state health department lifted a boil water advisory that had been in place since July 29 in the city of 150,000. inhabitants.
“We have restored clean water to the city of Jackson,” Reeves said at a press conference.
However, state health department official Jim Craig said households with pregnant women or young children should take precautions due to lead levels previously found in some homes in the water system. of Jackson. Craig said that although recent tests have shown “no lead or lead below action levels” set by the EPA, people should continue to avoid using city water to make preparations. infant formula.
Emergency repairs are still underway after problems at Jackson’s main water treatment plant caused most customers to lose service for several days in late August and early September.
Reeves said the water system remains “imperfect”.
“It’s possible, although I don’t pray inevitable, that there will be further disruptions,” Reeves said. “We cannot perfectly predict what could go wrong with such a flawed system in the future.”
The problems began days after torrential rains fell in central Mississippi, affecting the quality of raw water entering Jackson’s treatment plants. This slowed down the treatment process, drained the water reservoirs and caused a sudden drop in pressure.
When the water pressure drops, it is possible for untreated groundwater to enter the water system through cracked pipes. Customers are therefore advised to boil water to kill potentially harmful bacteria.
Even before the rainfall, officials said some water pumps had failed and a treatment plant was using standby pumps. The state health department had issued the boil water advisory due to cloudy water that could make people sick.
The National Guard and volunteer groups have distributed millions of bottles of drinking water in Jackson since late August.
At a community meeting on Tuesday, Jackson resident Evelyn Ford said she could only fetch water for herself and her older neighbors on weekends because of her weekday work schedule. Ford told Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba that workers at a distribution site criticized her for receiving multiple cases of water and a state trooper told her to leave.
“I felt humbled,” Ford said.
Lumumba told Ford: “You weren’t begging for water. You deserve it. And nobody should make you feel like you’re begging. Nobody should make you feel like you’re just trying to enjoy it. “
Jackson is the largest city in one of the poorest states in the United States. The city has a shrinking tax base due to white flight, which began about a decade after public schools were integrated in 1970. Jackson’s population is over 80 percent black, and about 25 percent its inhabitants live in poverty.
Like many American cities, Jackson struggles with aging infrastructure with cracking or collapsing water pipes. Lumumba, a Democrat in a Republican-run state, said the city’s water problems stem from decades of deferred maintenance.
Some equipment froze at Jackson’s main water treatment plant during a cold snap in early 2020, leaving thousands of customers with dangerously low water pressure or no water at all. The National Guard participated in the distribution of drinking water. People collected water in buckets to flush the toilets. Similar issues occurred on a smaller scale earlier this year.
Jackson frequently has boil water advisories due to loss of pressure or other issues that can contaminate the water. Some of the warrants are only in place for a few days, while others last for weeks.
In 2016, the state health department found improper application of water treatment chemicals due to a failing corrosion control system at the Curtis plant. The EPA has asked the city to correct this problem. In 2017, the city began installing corrosion control treatment.
A water quality advisory issued in July said the majority of samples tested had lead levels “below the EPA’s action level”. But it also lists state health department precautions, including that infant formula should only be prepared with filtered or bottled water and that children under 5 should be screened. lead and blood tests.