Posted on August 31, 2022

The Water Crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, Has Gotten So Bad, the City Temporarily Ran Out of Bottled Water to Give to Residents

Amir Vera et al., CNN, August 30, 2022

Recent torrential rain coupled with years of water system issues have resulted in a crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, where the city doesn’t have enough water to fight fires, flush toilets or even hand out to residents in need.

Jackson’s main water treatment facility began failing Monday, according to Gov. Tate Reeves. The National Guard was called up to help distribute bottled water as crews work to get the water treatment plant back online, state officials said.

But the distribution itself proved unsustainable. Residents of all ages were seen waiting in lines more than a mile long at Hawkins Field Airport for at least two hours Tuesday for just one case of bottled water. The event was supposed to span three hours, but barely ran two as people were eventually turned away when the 700 cases of water ran out.


Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told CNN’s Pamela Brown the city is working on more water distribution events. {snip}


Explanations for Jackson’s failing system are complicated: Damage this summer to pumps at the main water treatment facility made failure increasingly likely as the summer progressed, the governor said; and flooding of the Pearl River after heavy rains last week affected treatment processes and therefore the amount of running water the system can provide, Lumumba said.

This week’s troubles come as the water system has been plagued with problems for years and with the city already under a boil water notice since late July for what the state called a water-quality issue.

The state is “surging our resources to the city’s water treatment facility and beginning emergency maintenance, repairs and improvements,” Gov. Reeves said. “We will do everything in our power to restore water pressure and get water flowing back to the people of Jackson.”

Water for those in the state’s most populous city would have to be provided “for an unknown period of time,” Reeves said.


State Rep. Ronnie Crudup Jr. said he didn’t have running water Monday, but on Tuesday, discolored water came out of his faucet that he used to flush the toilet. He and his family used bottled water Tuesday morning to brush their teeth, Crudup told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota.


Water system issues go back decades, mayor says

The problem this week stems from one of two water treatment facilities in the city: the O.B. Curtis plant, which is run by the city of Jackson, according to the governor.

The main pumps at O.B. Curtis were severely damaged recently, and the facility began operating on smaller backup pumps about a month ago, around the time the latest boil water notice began in July, the governor said, without elaborating about the damage.

The governor said he was told Friday that “it was a near-certainty that Jackson would fail to produce running water sometime in the next several weeks or months if something did not materially improve,” the governor said.

But Lumumba said during a Monday news conference that it was only a matter time before the water system failed because Jackson’s water system has been faced serious issues for years.

“I have said on multiple occasions that it’s not a matter of ‘if’ our system would fail, but a matter of ‘when’ our system would fail,” the mayor said, adding that the city has been “going at it alone for the better part of two years” when it comes to the water crisis.

In early 2020, the water system failed an Environmental Protection Agency inspection. The agency wrote the drinking water had the potential to be host to harmful bacteria or parasites, based on observations of the water’s turbidity, or cloudiness, as well as “disinfection treatment concerns, and/or the condition of the distribution system.”

In March 2020, the EPA issued an order requiring the city to develop a plan to replace and repair monitoring and treatment equipment, to “address dosing processes for disinfection and pH control” and to take more coliform bacteria samples, among other things.

The city also has endured weather-related shutdowns.

In February 2021, a winter storm shut down Jackson’s entire water system, leaving tens of thousands of residents without water for a month amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Residents have been under some sort of boil water notice or advisory several times since that storm, including the state-ordered notice posted in July.


In July 2021, the EPA and the city entered into an agreement to address “long-term challenges and make needed improvements to the drinking water system.” The EPA recently announced $74.9 million in federal water and sewer infrastructure funds for Mississippi, mentioning Jackson without naming specific projects.

However, Lumumba has said it would take $2 billion to fully repair and replace the dated system, which city, state and federal officials say also has too much lead in its water in some places.


Jackson’s ongoing water system problems already had some residents reporting low to no water pressure and raw sewage flowing in city streets and neighborhoods before this month.

Now, some residents are taking to Twitter — where #jxnwatercrisis and #jacksonwatercrisis were trending — to post pictures of buckets and even tubs full of brown water coming out of their drains.

Some on social media also pointed to systemic and environmental racism as among the causes of the city’s ongoing water issues and lack of resources, given that 82.5% of Jackson’s population identifies as Black or African American, according to census data, while the state’s legislature is majority White.


Jackson has undergone drastic changes in the past half century. Its economic decline has occurred rapidly over the past two decades, fueled by population decline and demographic shifts.

The city’s population shrank from almost 200,000 in 1990 to about 160,000 in 2020. Its decline in population in these three decades was driven almost entirely by White flight. The city was 56% Black in 1990. By 2020, 82% of the city’s residents were Black.