President Joe Biden’s administration approved an emergency declaration over a water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, ordering federal assistance to supplement state response on Tuesday, August 30.
The White House statement said emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding for 90 days. The administration also authorized the Department of Homeland Security‘s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.
Jackson has been grappling with multiple water issues in the last week, with too much water on the ground due to heavy rainfalls and flooding, and not having enough safe water to drink as a treatment plant broke down.
Mississippi activated its National Guard to help distribute water to tens of thousands of Jackson residents after a treatment plant broke down, leaving most of the state capital without safe running water that could go on for days.
Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency for Jackson and surrounding communities, warning the area’s 180,000 population to avoid drinking tap water.
The breakdown occurred on Monday, August 29, when floodwaters seeped into the O.B. Curtis treatment plant. An emergency team had the plant working at 40 percent capacity on Tuesday, according to the state’s health officer, Jim Craig.
The shutdown created havoc for businesses and public schools, affecting nearly 21,000 students who were forced to move classes online. Officials said they could not estimate how many homes were cut off.
Consumers bought bottled water in bulk, leaving supermarket shelves empty. Volunteers had to apologize to people when they no longer had water to give, urging them instead to return the following day.
Tankers distributed non-potable water, while drinking water was distributed at several sites.
The state also trucked in 10 tractor-trailers of water and is expecting another 108 trucks in the coming days, according to State Emergency Management Director Stephen McCraney.
Water issues are not new in Jackson.
In February 2021, a pair of winter storms caused Jackson residents to lose running water. And also a year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order saying that water supply in the city could contain E. Coli. In 2016, there had been reports of high lead levels in the city’s water supply due to recurring faulty water treatment techniques. (Related: Pharma company cashed in on Flint water crisis, raised lead poisoning drug prices 2,700 percent.)
At a news conference on Tuesday, Jackson Mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba welcomed the state aid, but exposed a rift between the Republican state officials and the Democratic administration of a city whose population is more than 80 percent African-American.
The governor alleged that the water treatment plant suffered from years of city mismanagement, but the mayor said the state has been absent in its efforts to maintain and update the plant.
“We’ve been going it alone for the better part of two years. And now we are excited to finally welcome the state to the table and all the valuable resources that they bring,” Lumumba said.
Each side had been offering differing accounts of what happened, although they came to an agreement by Tuesday afternoon.
The governor, who previously blamed pump failures, affirmed what the mayor said: that the floodwaters entered the treatment plant, altering the chemistry of the water and rendering the existing treatment inadequate.
But even before the crisis, the city had been under a boil water notice for the past month due to “elevated turbidity levels” that made the water appear cloudy.
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