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“The city cannot produce enough water to fight fires, to flush toilets and to meet other critical needs,” Gov. Tate Reeves said.
A quarter million people in and around Mississippi’s largest city should not use the water coming out of their taps, public officials warned—if Jackson residents are lucky enough to get running water at all.
“Do not drink the water. In too many cases, it is raw water from the reservoir being pushed through the pipes. Be smart, protect yourself, protect your family, preserve water, look out for your fellow man and look out for your neighbors,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, warned residents Monday night.
The governor told reporters Monday that the current crisis, coming after a month of water quality problems in the state’s capital city, went beyond a normal boil order. Neither Reeves nor local officials have given an estimate for when normal service would be restored.
“Until it is fixed,” the governor said, “we do not have reliable running water at scale. The city cannot produce enough water to fight fires, to flush toilets and to meet other critical needs.”
Reeves said the state would distribute bottled water to city residents, starting Tuesday morning.
Flooding from the Pearl River has apparently crippled the Jackson’s main water treatment plant, forcing schools and businesses to close. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the city had to reduce water pressure for the whole city because floodwaters entered the plant.
Jackson’s water system has faced several crises in recent years, from a balky billing system to a prolonged outage following a 2021 winter storm (the same storm that knocked power out for most of Texas). Those episodes highlighted the effects of decades of disinvestment in the predominantly Black city’s water system, caused by white flight to the suburbs.
The ongoing problems have also added to tensions between the state’s predominantly white Republican leaders and Jackson’s predominantly Black, Democratic elected officials.
City leaders have asked the state government to help it upgrade its water infrastructure, but lawmakers and statewide officials have largely rebuffed those requests. Last year, for example, the legislature shot down a proposal to allow Jackson to raise its city sales tax by 1 percentage point to repair and upgrade its drinking water and sewer systems.
The governor did not invite the Jackson mayor to the press conference he held Monday, but Reeves told reporters that Lumumba agreed to work with state officials as they confronted the problem, according to Mississippi Today.
Last year, the Biden administration highlighted Jackson’s ongoing troubles with its water system. Michael Regan, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, toured the city last November and touted the possibility of the infrastructure bill addressing environmental justice concerns.
Mississippi is expected to get $429 million for water system repairs through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but Lumumba has said it would take at least $1 billion to bring Jackson’s water system into good condition.
Daniel C. Vock is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.