Jackson, Mississippi, will not have reliable drinking water for the forseeable future, authorities have said.
The pumps failed at the main water treatment plant on Monday. City officials linked the breakdown to extreme rainfall and cresting of the local Pearl River, which flooded streets.
However, Governor Tate Reeves said the city-run treatment plant was chronically understaffed and had been poorly operated for years, according to Reuters. The governor declared a state of emergency over the issues.
Jackson has two water-treatment plants, and the larger one is near a reservoir that provides most of the city’s water supply. The reservoir also has a role in flood control.
Jackson’s Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba declared a water system emergency after issues at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant, which left many residents in the majority-Black city with low or no water pressure.
Mayor Lumumba — a Democrat who was not invited to the Republican governor’s news conference — said flooding has created additional problems at the treatment plant, and low water pressure could last a few days.
The low pressure raised concerns about firefighting and about people’s ability to take showers or flush toilets.
Residents were being advised to boil their water before drinking.
Bottled water was being handed out and tanker truckers set up for emergency distribution to 150,000 residents with the National Guard called into assist.
The city clarified on its website that it was not cutting off water to homes after some reports suggested as much.
The city was in contact with the Mississippi Department of Health and the US Environmental Protection Agency over continued issues with the system, according to the official Twitter account.
Jackson has longstanding problems with its water system. A cold snap in 2021 left a significant number of people without running water after pipes froze. Similar problems happened again early this year, on a smaller scale. The city has been under a boil-water notice since late July because tests found a cloudy quality to the water that could lead to health problems.
Legislative leaders reacted with alarm to Jackson’s latest water system problems.
“We have grave concerns for citizens’ health and safety,” Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said in a statement Monday, suggesting the state take a role in trying to solve the issue.
The Republican House speaker, Philip Gunn, said he has been contacted by hospitals, businesses and schools “pleading that something be done to address the water crisis in Jackson.”
As the Pearl River started to rise last week, some Jackson residents started moving furniture and appliances out of their homes, and others stocked up on sandbags. Two years ago, torrential rain caused the river to reach 36.7 feet (11.2 meters) and Jackson homes in the hardest-hit neighborhoods were filled with dirty, snake-infested floodwaters.
The Mississippi flooding was less severe than flooding that caused death and destruction in Kentucky last month. Those floods left at least 39 dead and robbed thousands of families of all of their possessions. Nearly a month later, residents are wrestling with whether to rebuild at the place they call home or to start over somewhere else.
AP contributed to this report