Gluckstadt launches bottled water drive for Jackson
Gov. Reeves: Jackson water expected to flow as state takes command of repairs
Faucets could start flowing in Jackson soon as water tanks fill, Gov. Tate Reeves told reporters Wednesday afternoon, as the state took command of the drinking water crisis that’s left hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses without running water.
Rental pumps have been brought in and emergency repairs at water plants are “happening now,” the governor said in a briefing with state emergency management and health officials from MEMA headquarters.
As the state’s capital city struggles to provide drinking water, some restaurants, especially, are learning to survive as Madison countians mobilized to offer aid to those in need by donating water.
Meanwhile, the Nissan plant at Canton, which has relied on the Jackson surface water drawn from the Reservoir particularly for painting vehicles, had already turned to alternate sources and remains operational, officials said Wednesday.
In Jackson, Fondren’s Walker’s Drive-In has brought in its own water tank again and is open for business in wake of the crisis that began Saturday with record flooding but is due to what some observers say is systemic mismanagement failure that will have to be addressed by the city of Jackson.
Jackson’s O.B. Curtis water treatment facility below the Ross Barnett Reservoir dam in Ridgeland has become a focal point of the crisis with Reeves declaring a state of emergency and setting up an incident command center at the plant off of Lake Harbour Drive.
State experts are in command at the O.B. Curtis plant in Ridgeland, Reeves said Wednesday flanked by state officials.
More than 600 National Guardsmen will be deployed as early as Thursday to distribute water and a federal emergency declaration was granted by President Joe Biden about midnight Wednesday freeing up resources, Reeves said.
“We are with you,” Reeves assured the people of Jackson, saying the state is doing “everything in its power” to get the water back on.
Madison County residents are stepping up to help their neighbors across the county line. The city of Gluckstadt has partnered with the Gluckstadt Madison Business Alliance to hold a bottled water drive for Jackson residents.
Until Sept. 30, businesses or individuals can drop off water at Gluckstadt City Hall, which will then be given to the Salvation Army to distribute in Jackson. The new Sullivan’s had dropped off pallets of water Wednesday morning.
The Madison County Schools also announced a water drive.
The city of Madison is collecting water as well.
Jackson restaurants like Walker’s are learning to survive.
“We are unplugging from Jackson city water and bringing in our own fresh water tank,” Walker’s management announced on social media Tuesday.
They noted it’s not the first time the restaurant has had to provide its own water.
“For the record, we have had to bring in a tank several times before with the loss of pressure. We are only announcing it now, so you know we have made precautions and will be open,” they go on to say.
Other Jackson business leaders are pushing for solutions.
Restauranteur Jeff Good took to social media Monday to plead with city leaders for their cooperation with state and county officials to “uncover the real problems, put the human capital to work on the issues, and restore reliable, drinkable water to the citizens of our community.”
Good said Wednesday morning that his Broad Street Bakery & Cafe would not be open due to low water pressure. The bakery is located on a hill at Banner Hall on the I-55 Frontage Road.
Banner Hall sits on the highest point of the city and is “the canary in the coal mine” for Jackson’s water problems, he said.
Good’s Sal & Mookie’s off of State Street near UMMC and Fondren reported Wednesday that they had water and would be open for lunch.
“How we got here is irrelevant at this point,” Good wrote. “We are here. Full system failure. Now, the chance to rebuild. Let’s not fight… let’s not posture… let’s collaborate… let’s deliver clean water to all. Let’s work together. Let’s do this.”
The Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau, also known as Visit Jackson, encouraged people to call ahead to see if a business is open.
“Please call ahead to check with your favorite restaurant, shop or museum to see if they are serving with modified hours,” the post reads.
Underinvesting in Jackson’s water infrastructure has been the failure, observers agree.
“For years, city authorities have underinvested in Jackson’s water infrastructure, to the point where it is now falling apart,” said Douglas Carswell, head of the Mississippi Public Policy Institute, a Jackson-based conservative think tank, in an op-ed for the Journal.
“This, some will be quick to tell you, is because of a lack of money. But why is there not enough money?” Carswell said.
John Wallace, the longtime head of Canton Municipal Utilities, said water systems have to be maintained and Jackson has failed to maintain and improve its infrastructure.
Gov. Reeves early in the week set up the command center at the O.B. Curtis plant and held a press conference with state officials on Tuesday to provide ultimate transparency, he told reporters.
Workers at the O. B. Curtis water plant have done very good, hard, and valuable work, but there “just haven’t been enough of them,” Reeves said Tuesday in an update from the plant.
“Things are not significantly worse today than they were yesterday and not are significantly better but we are seeing some progress,” Reeves said.
Jim Craig, director of health protection for the state Health Department, said that the O.B. Curtis plant, rated for 50 million gallons of water a day, on Tuesday was only pushing about 30 million gallons.
Water was “not optimally treated for consumption,” he said Tuesday after an analysis at the O.B. Curtis plant. The chemistry was out of balance and compared it to a swimming pool and rainwater with additional raw water coming into the plant.
Like rainwater in a swimming pool it messes up the chemistry, officials said. Rainwater and flooding contributed to the lack of drinking water, Reeves said, hinting at other human factors but stopping short of being critical during an emergency, he said.
Reeves said emphatically during the press conference: “Do not drink the water. To be clear, do not drink the water at this time.”
Craig clarified that people can drink the water after boiling it. He said it’s OK to bathe in Jackson water, but “don’t open your mouth while you’re in the shower,” and be especially careful that infants and those with the compromised immune system don’t consume un-boiled water.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Stephen McCraney, it was reported, said the state’s emergency team had been checking on 71 care facilities across Jackson making sure patients were OK and worked to secure drinking and non-potable water and water for firefighting.
He said 10 tractor-trailer loads of drinking water arrived Tuesday, and 108 more truckloads are en route. He said that by Thursday at noon, there will be seven “mega distribution sites” set up citywide that will be able to distribute 36 truckloads of water a day.
McCraney said Anheuser-Busch, Walmart, Sav-A-lot and other companies are donating water and that volunteer organizations are offering help. Those who want to help can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Reeves announced the State of Emergency on Tuesday.
“The state is marshaling tremendous resources to protect the people of our capital city,” Reeves said. “It will take time for that to come to fruition. But we are here in times of crisis, for anyone in the state who needs it. That’s my responsibility as governor, and it is what everyone in my administration is committed to ensuring.”
Current pressure issues mean that the city is unable to produce enough water to flush toilets, fight fires, and meet other critical needs.
The state of Mississippi has immediately organized for fire safety and is organizing resources to provide for sanitation and life safety, officials said.
Reeves announced that the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will lead the effort to distribute drinking water and non-drinking water to Jackson residents.
The state has created the incident command structure and is surging resources to the city’s water treatment facility and beginning emergency maintenance, repairs, and improvements.
The Mississippi State Department of Health issued an order, according to the Mississippi Safe Drinking Water Act of 1997, declaring a public drinking water supply emergency in the City of Jackson and ordering city water officials to immediately cooperate with state response teams and contractors deployed to augment current staffing and to take remediation actions deemed necessary by the State Incident Commander.
MSDH cited the following reasons for issuing the order:
• Insufficient number of certified operators at J.H. Fewell and O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plants
• Insufficient number of maintenance staff at all water treatment plants and to support the distribution system
• Failure of multiple raw water pumps at O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant
• Low levels of water in storage tank
• Low water pressure impacting proper sanitation and education opportunities
• Disinfection levels not consistently optimal developing the potential to have the presence of enteric organisms, including but not limited to, E.Coli, Cryptosporidium, or Giardia in the drinking water being served to customers.
In the nearly hour-long press conference on Monday, Reeves said he and his team were briefed on Friday that in the coming weeks or months they needed to prepare for a scenario where Jackson would be without running water for an indefinite period.
“Over the weekend, we started developing water distribution plans, sourcing tankers, and assessing all the risks associated with an event like this,” the governor said. “All of this was with the prayer that we would have more time before the system ran to failure, and unfortunately, that failure appears to have begun today.”
“This is not a task that I intended to have to deal with when I ran for governor in 2019, but I am not going to shy away from it because it’s hard,” he went on to say. “Here on the 17th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, hard things happen. I wasn’t elected governor to hide those hard things, I’m here to fix them. That’s what we’re going to do in the coming days and weeks and months.”
Reeves said they have gotten a rental pump in place and have started making emergency repairs at O.B. Curtis. They need mechanics, electricians and divers to work on the plant.
As far as a timeframe is concerned, Reeves said that is up in the air but that they are currently working “at a pace and level of professionalism I am personally very grateful for.”
Reeves said it was “not easy or fair” to the people of Jackson and was “a tremendous burden you citizens should not have to shoulder.”
The current outlook is to have a permanent solution in place as early as Sept. 6, officials said.
MEMA’s Stephen McRainey said they have spent $8 million so far and “there will be more.”
Jim Craig, senior deputy and director at the Mississippi State Department of Health, said that part of the problem is that a bunch of previous problems have been band-aided rather than fixed.
According to Madison County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Joseph Deason, the Canton Nissan automotive plant is supplied water from the O.B. Curtis Treatment Facility by Jackson.
There is a 24-inch pipe that runs up along I-55 to the plant, officials said.
“In the last few years there has been spotty service with OB Curtis,” Deason said. “Bear Creek and CMU have been filling in the blanks.”
Deason explained that the surface water which OB Curtis uses is better for the paint process at Nissan as opposed to the well water produced in Madison County.
“CMU and Bear Creek have been providing the water, to my knowledge, since early August,” he said. “Even prior to that they have been providing water quite often. That facility has been going down quite a while for the past few years so thank God we have Bear Creek and CMU who have both stepped up.”
He said that isn’t a long-term solution though and the state is currently looking at the issue as well.
Marleen Yowakim, a Nissan spokesman, confirmed that the plant has recently switched to services from CMU and Bear Creek but noted that the plant is “running smoothly” and has seen “no impact to operations” from the ongoing issues in Jackson.
Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee noted there are a few customers on West County Line Road who get water service from the city of Jackson.
“No other Ridgeland water customers are affected,” McGee said. “The city of Ridgeland routinely monitors its water system in accordance with the MS Health Department regulations and maintains top quality water service and pressure.”
McGee noted that his city draws its water from a separate source than the Jackson water system.
“The source for Ridgeland’s drinking water is from eight groundwater supply wells, not from the Reservoir,” he said.
Alan Hart, Ridgeland Public Work Director, said any Ridgeland residents who get their water from Jackson receive their water bill from the city of Jackson.
Hart said his office knows of one house on West County Line Road that receives water from Jackson. He said the adjacent house is either on a private well or has its water provided from the city of Jackson. Two other houses in that area are believed to be on private wells as well.
“The people that pay Ridgeland for their water do not have the issues that are being reported in Jackson,” Hart said. “Ridgeland’s water system is fully operational, and we are delivering excellent pressure and water quality.”
Madison’s water is supplied by Bear Creek Water Association and like Ridgeland is supplied by deep wells.
Carswell of the Policy Institute pointed out that in 2017 Jackson’s water billing system collected $61 million in revenue, and the operating costs of the city’s water system were about $54 million, saying that left a healthy surplus that competent management might have allocated to meet maintenance costs.
This year, the amount of revenue collected is likely to be closer to $40 million, far below running costs, he said. Not only is there no surplus to go towards maintenance, there does not seem to have been much maintenance even when there was a surplus.
“How on earth does a city water authority manage to lose almost a third of its revenue in the space of five years? Carswell asked. “In large part because the city authorities have not collected revenue since they have lacked an effective water billing system.”
On Saturday in Ridgeland, a mandatory evacuation of the Harbor Pines Mobile Home Community was ordered ahead of anticipated flooding of the nearby Pearl River.
For more information on the Jackson water emergency, visit www.msdh.gov for live updates and precautions to take.