Record rainfall and flooding overburdened the O.B. Curtis Water Plant, one of the majority-Black city's two water treatment plants, and left some 180,000 people without clean water after years of infrastructural issues related to the city’s water system.
Molly Minta, a higher education reporter for Mississippi Today, tweeted video of chocolate-colored water coming from her faucet on Friday. By the end of the weekend, that footage had attracted 12.4 million views.
Minta said in the same Twitter thread she used to share the video that she lives in the Belhaven neighborhood, which is less than 2 miles north of downtown Jackson. She said her neighbors have been "speculating the water is safer here because we’re close to a water plant but pretty far from the reservoir. Well…"
Homes in Belhaven and Belhaven Heights have been producing water the color of "weak coffee," an office manager working for Minta's landlord told the reporter.
“I have collected a sample of the water to get it tested,” Minta tweeted.
Black activists and volunteers have long reported inequity both statewide and in the city, leading to a visible divide between ignored Black neighborhoods and well-maintained white ones.
“When Belhaven starts getting robbed, it becomes a front-page news story because that’s an anomaly that isn’t supposed to happen,” Kadin Love, an organizer with the youth organization Black Youth Project 100, told Minta.
Brooke Floyd is coordinator of the Jackson People's Assembly, a grassroots effort to bring residents together and put them in contact with government officials.
Floyd told Minta the people of Mississippi as a whole are often “forgotten” and “the people in Jackson feel like they are left behind.”
No one cares until there’s a crisis, advocates told Minta.
John Knight, a volunteer with the violence prevention nonprofit Strong Arms of JXN, told Minta he wanted to help after serving time in prison on a drug charge, and he was doing exactly that—helping—when a reporter questioned him briefly, then walked off to interview someone else.
“Man, y’all just coming to get a story,” he said. “We living this shit.”
When rain caused flooding from the Pearl River, the O.B. Curtis Water Plant experienced such a loss of water pressure there wasn't enough to put out fires or even flush toilets dependably, Daily Kos staff writer Mark Sumner wrote.
While the water pressure issue has been resolved, at least temporarily, long-term relief is still in the works.
Many lay blame for the crisis that has been years in the making with Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who decided to sidestep Democrats and ignore requests for more state funding in the face of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emergency administrative order from 2020 warning of "imminent and substantial endangerment" to people the Jackson water system serves.
The EPA order required the city water system to "implement a plan" to address monitoring equipment, equipment repairs or replacements; "address dosing processes for disinfection and pH control"; "implement a plan to provide alternative drinking water when specific triggers are met"; and "take additional total coliform bacteria samples under prescribed conditions."
EPA Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Director Carol Kemker wrote to Lumumba: "Based on evidence of turbidity exceedances, disinfection treatment concerns, and/or the condition of the distribution system, the System has the potential to have the presence of E. Coli, Cryptosporidium, or Giardia in the drinking water being served to its customers."
Reeves implied during a news conference last Monday that the city failed to present a plan to state and federal officials for how to fix the longstanding problems. “The immediate crisis for which the state has come in and taken over O.B. Curtis is a direct result of the lack of operators, the lack of staff, and the lack of mechanics, and the lack of people,” he said.
Proving Reeves is exactly the liar he appears to be, Lumumba produced records including the city's capital improvement plan that shows the city requested funding to address its water treatment plant.
“I continue to say to you time and time again that we are always in a state of an emergency because our system is fragile because it is old and outdated," the mayor said during a news conference last week. "And so even when we don't have a boil water notice, even when the pressure is not low, because of the fragility of our water treatment facility, we consider ourselves to always be in a constant state of emergency.
“And that demands resources. It doesn't demand someone trying to take control of our plant in order to get revenue. It demands the type of assistance that provides the relief that our residents truly need.”
Reeves said during his press conference that “privatization is on the table.” But that’s a move the city of Jackson tried in the form of a contract with the German conglomerate Siemens Inc. Many argue that contract led to the current water crisis. The city had to sue the corporation, netting an $89.8 million settlement, Jackson Free Press reported.
“This contract ended up being a disaster,” journalist Judd Legum told the nonprofit Democracy Now! “There was essentially a lost decade where the system deteriorated further and there were really no substantial investments made, and that’s part of the reason why we see what’s going on today.”
This message still runs across the top of Jackson’s website: “The City remains under a boil water notice. We will continue to update residents on the status of the system when we have additional information.”
The city’s full update as of Saturday reads:
The O.B. Curtis Water Plant remained at a steady pressure over the past 24 hours and is currently working at 88 PSI. All tanks are currently maintaining good margins for overhead storage and made gains overnight. Pressure should still be stable throughout city.
Overall water production continues to improve. Yesterday, the membrane plant production remained steady and the conventional side increased significantly. The team continues to work to increase production capacity.
The repaired raw water pump #4 has arrived at the plant. It has been placed back on the pump platform by crane this morning. Work is ongoing to place the raw water pump back in service.
Investigative sampling will continue to monitor water quality. At this time the distribution system is not ready for full sampling to clear the boil water notice. We will continue to evaluate when full sampling can begin. This is contingent upon sustained pressure. We will need two rounds of clear samples to be able to remove the boil water notice.
If you are experiencing discolored water or no pressure please report using this tool https://arcg.is/0LDmjb
. This will allow us to track any remaining issues and address them. We are currently monitoring this information to respond as needed.
Jennifer Kaplan, spokesperson for the EPA's Office of Inspector General, told CBS News
there is a "multidisciplinary review" underway in Jackson targeting long-term solutions. "We're going to be talking to as many people as we can and see what kind of work we can do," Kaplan said. "It is all hands on deck."