Mississippi’s capital city enters week 4 of a water crisis: Here’s how it got to this point

JACKSON, Miss. – A water outage in Jackson, Mississippi, has caused many to lug gallons from distribution sites to their homes just to flush the toilet. Low pressure in faucets has made it difficult to shower or wash dishes. A citywide water boil notice has left thousands of people without immediate, safe drinking water.

Officials in the city of roughly 160,000 people have said the water pressure was being restored after it was depleted by a winter storm that passed through the area three weeks ago. But in some pockets of the city, largely among those on higher elevations, residents were still experiencing little to no water pressure as of Monday. 

The drinking water in Jackson is still unsafe to drink. The city remains under a citywide boil notice first issued on Feb. 16.

Testing revealed the city’s water contains high levels of turbidity, or cloudiness, which increases the chance the water may contain disease-causing organisms.

Public Works Director Charles Williams on Monday said the notice could be lifted for some areas of the city possibly Thursday once the city’s water tanks were full and sampling could take place. The Mississippi State Department of Health has given the city the go-ahead to begin testing, he said. 

More from the Clarion Ledger: Bottled water to be given away at several Jackson locations Tuesday

A helping hand: As Jackson’s water crisis continues, outside communities are bringing water to residents in need

How did this happen? Here’s what to know about the water crisis in Jackson:

Feb. 16: Weather chokes city facilities

Winter weather and icy temperatures choked equipment at the city’s water treatment plants on Feb. 16, rendering water pressure inadequate. 

It caused nearly 43,000 water customers in Jackson to be placed under a boil-water advisory.

Feb. 18: No set timeline for restoration

City of Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba announced the capital city did not have a definitive timeline for total water restoration.

Public Works Director Charles Williams noted water main breaks popping up that were further complicating the process of getting water to residents.

Water distribution sites began to lace the city, and fire stations made available non-potable water for residents.

Feb. 22: 300,000 in Mississippi under boil water advisories

The state health department recorded 300,000 customers under boil water advisories across Mississippi.

Convenience and grocery stores across the city saw a surge in demand for bottled water as many residents did not have running of safe water. Their supplies began to run low. 

City spokeswoman Michelle Atoa said the city provided over 26,500 bottles of water and around 7,000 gallons of non-potable water. 

Sanitizing water without electricity: Mississippians without power might not be able to boil water, but they can disinfect it. Here’s how.

Feb. 23: Governor activates Guard

Gov. Tate Reeves suggested a state takeover of Jackson’s water system. Reeves tweeted he’d lent more help to Jackson water customers by securing tankers to provide non-potable water. He also activated the Mississippi National Guard to assist during the crisis.

Feb. 24: Officials warn of water main breaks

City officials say most of the city would see water restored by the end of the week. But they warned residents water main breaks could cause delays. 

Ten water distribution sites pop up around Jackson.

Feb. 25: Water pressure gradually increasing

Public Works Director Williams said at a news conference water pressure was increasing gradually at the water treatment plants, which allowed the plants to pump out more water.

Mayor Lumumba and Williams point to Feb. 26 as a more likely date water would be restored.

Residents reflect: ‘We’re just not built for this down here’: Jackson water crisis is latest chapter in decades-long saga

March 1: Pressure falls back; south Jackson struggles

Public Works Director Williams said the city’s water system was still stabilizing itself and pressure was near ideal levels Feb. 28, but those levels had since fallen. South Jackson residents continue to struggle with a lack of water and water pressure. 

Up to 80 water main breaks were reported between the time the storm hit and March 1. City workers continue to mend the breaks, while volunteers, community members and officials man water distribution sites throughout the city.

The Water System Business Administration announced it will offer residents a chance to have their bills adjusted if storm damage caused a lack of water or broken pipes.

March 2: No city data on water outages

City officials say they do not know the number of residents without water or the date for full restoration.

Williams, the public works director, explained south Jackson residents in high-elevation areas were dealing with outages, but he did not know how many residents were without water.

March 3: Aging infrastructure at fault, official says

Water intake filters full of clams, mussels, other fish and items force systems offline to clean the filters, Williams said. Some customers who had recently seen water pressure return may have lost it again, he said. 

Williams confirms more than 10,000 of the city’s water customers did not have any water. The city’s aging water infrastructure is the main reason for failure, he said.

Previously: Weeks after Mississippi winter storms, some residents still don’t have water

March 4: An email to the governor

Local media outlets get hold of an email Lumumba sent to Reeves on March 3. Lumumba requested about $47 million in emergency funding from the state and federal government to cover a wide range of projects relating to water system infrastructure. 

Seeking answers from the city: Mississippi’s capital city hasn’t had clean water in weeks. Is there an end in sight?

State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said the Mississippi State Department of Health continued to monitor the quality of Jackson’s water supply and was working with the city.

March 8: Low pressure, boil water advisory remained

Several residents, businesses and schools continue to deal with low water pressure.

Jackson remains under a water boil advisory because of high turbidity —cloudiness that increases the possibility water might contain disease-causing organisms. 

Follow reporter Sarah Haselhorst on Twitter: @HaselhorstSarah

Follow the Jackson Clarion Ledger on Twitter: @clarionledger

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