Torrential rains last week followed by flooding of the Pearl River exacerbated problems at the O.B. Curtis treatment plant, leading to a drop in pressure throughout Jackson, where residents were already under a boil-water order due to poor water quality.
Water pressure continued to improve in Mississippi’s capital city Friday as repairs continued at a long-troubled water plant, but some in the city of 150,000 still had little or no water flowing from taps, officials said.
Seven major distribution sites for drinking water were announced Thursday, augmenting smaller efforts around town.
And there was a new concern: Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said success in increasing the water pressure could strain the city’s aging water pipes.
“That could lead to rupturing of pipes across the city,” Lumumba said during a news conference with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu.
Reeves has stressed cooperation among state, local and federal officials but tensions among politicians have been evident.
“More areas throughout Jackson now have some pressure,” the city said in a news release Friday. “Many are now experiencing normal pressure. Areas further from the plant and at higher elevations may still be experiencing low to no pressure.”
At Golden Key Apartments, a complex for senior citizens and people with disabilities, resident Mary Gaines, 64, helped coordinate water distribution Thursday.
“It’s a very nice place to live. We just ain’t got no water,” Gaines said. “And most senior citizens ain’t got no car, so we have to get water wherever we can.”
Both Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and Democratic President Joe Biden declared emergencies this week to enable faster government action. FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell was scheduled to visit the city later Friday.
Biden sounded critical of Reeves in remarks to reporters at the White House late Thursday.
“We’ve offered every single thing available to Mississippi. The governor has to act,” Biden said. “There’s money to deal with this problem. We’ve given them EPA. We’ve given them everything there is to offer.”
Reeves’ office didn’t respond to a Friday morning request for comment and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to elaborate on Biden’s remarks Friday. She confirmed that Biden and Reeves haven’t spoken to each other about the crisis, but downplayed the lack of a call, saying it was “not necessary to further any progress in this situation.”
Statewide, there is about $75 million specifically for water resources available through a bipartisan infrastructure law signed by Biden last year, Jean-Pierre said.
Another example of political tensions came Friday after the city announced a 1 p.m. news conference with the Democratic mayor and Reeves, only to recall the announcement more than an hour later.
Amid the confusion, Reeves’ Twitter account included a rebuke from his communications director Hunter Estes: “This release from Jackson is false. No 1:00 event. We have not invited city politicians to these substantive state press conferences on our repairs, because they occur to provide honest information about the state’s work. We are investigating why they are releasing misinformation.”
When Reeves held a news conference Monday to announce a state of emergency, Lumumba was not there. Reeves didn’t invite him. They held separate news conferences Tuesday and Wednesday, although they finally appeared together Thursday and Lumumba insisted they’re working as a team.
Biden was asked Friday whether he would visit Mississippi and said he had no plans to. Biden said he has been talking to people in Mississippi including Lumumba.
Residents in Jackson have long struggled with a faulty water system before heavy rains and flooding from the Pearl River that brought on the latest crisis.
The National Guard has been called to help with water distribution. The state emergency agency said 1.1 million bottles of water were handed out Thursday. Non-potable water, for toilet flushing and other uses, was also being offered to people who brought their own containers to some sites.
City figures show that as of Wednesday morning 80% of the water system’s customers had little or no water. It was unclear how many had been substantially restored as of Friday.