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Biden pledges federal aid to Jackson, Mississippi, over water crisis

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President Joe Biden has pledged federal aid to Jackson, Mississippi, where a crisis has left the city without enough water to fight fires or flush toilets.

Recent rainstorms – along with outstanding issues with the water system – have brought the crisis to a head.

Biden called Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba on Wednesday, the White House said, to discuss the situation.

“The president expressed his determination to provide federal support to address the immediate crisis and longer-term efforts to rebuild Jackson’s water infrastructure,” the White House said in a readout of the call.

Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state Monday night.

In addition to addressing the immediate crisis, Biden said he wants to provide federal support for longer-term efforts to rebuild Jackson’s aging water infrastructure, which has been unreliable for years.

Even before the service interruption, Jackson’s 150,000 residents had boiled their drinking water in the past month because officials said it could cause digestive problems.

And Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday evening he declared a state of emergency after excessive rainfall exacerbated problems at one of Jackson’s water treatment plants and caused low water pressure in much of the capital.

Mississippi receives $75 million to address water problems as part of bipartisan infrastructure law – over Canton flooding

President Joe Biden has pledged federal aid to Jackson, Mississippi, as it suffers a major water crisis

President Joe Biden has pledged federal aid to Jackson, Mississippi, as it suffers a major water crisis

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba (above) blames the water outage on recent floods that ravaged the state last week

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba (above) blames the water outage on recent floods that ravaged the state last week

The low pressure raised concerns about firefighting and people’s ability to shower or flush toilets.

Reeves said the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will begin distributing both drinking and non-potable water in the city of 150,000 on Tuesday, and the National Guard will be called in to help. The governor said he understands that the people of Jackson don’t want to have problems with the water system.

Like many other cities, Jackson faces problems with the water system that it cannot afford to fix.

The tax base has been eroded in recent decades as the population has declined — the result of the predominantly white flight to suburbs that began after public schools were integrated in 1970. The city’s population is now over 80% black, with about 25% of its residents living in poverty.

Lumumba said last week that repairing Jackson’s water system could cost $200 million, but on Tuesday he said the cost could run into “perhaps billions of dollars.”

Mississippi will receive $75 million to address water problems as part of a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Jackson has two water treatment plants, and the larger one is near a reservoir that supplies most of the city’s water supply. The reservoir also has a role in flood control.

Two years ago, torrential rain lifted the river 11 feet (11.2 meters) high, and homes in Jackson in the worst-affected neighborhoods were filled with filthy, snake-infested floodwaters.

Mississippi on Tuesday activated its National Guard to help distribute water to tens of thousands of Jackson residents after a long-troubled sewage treatment plant went down, leaving most of the state’s capital without safe running water, possibly for days.

Governor Reeves called on the state’s National Guard to provide assistance to the city, which was ravaged by record rains and flooding over the weekend.

Tankers distributed non-potable water and bottled drinking water was distributed in several places, the city said.

The state was transporting 10 tractor-trailers with water on Tuesday and expected another 108 trucks in the coming days, Stephen McCraney, the state’s director of emergency management, told reporters.

Jackson, Mississippi ran out of water indefinitely, leaving approximately 180,000 residents without water.  Now officials are rushing to hand out crates of water bottles to residents.  Pictured: First responders and recruits in Jackson carrying water bottle suitcases to vehicles on Aug. 18 amid water problems

Jackson, Mississippi ran out of water indefinitely, leaving approximately 180,000 residents without water. Now officials are rushing to hand out crates of water bottles to residents. Pictured: First responders and recruits in Jackson carrying water bottle suitcases to vehicles on Aug. 18 amid water problems

Governor Tate Reeves said the city has struggled with its water infrastructure for years, blaming the failing infrastructure on poor maintenance.  Pictured: Mississippi water plant

Governor Tate Reeves said the city has struggled with its water infrastructure for years, blaming the failing infrastructure on poor maintenance. Pictured: Mississippi water plant

The outage occurred Monday as floodwaters seeped into the understaffed and poorly maintained OB Curtis treatment plant.

An emergency team had the plant operating at 40% capacity on Tuesday, senior health official Jim Craig said, and a temporary pump was expected to be installed on Wednesday to further increase capacity.

But the system still had insufficient water pressure to guarantee city-wide service. Officials said they could not estimate how many homes were cut.

The closure wreaked havoc on businesses, and public schools in Jackson, housing nearly 21,000 students, were forced to reschedule classes online as they had done during the coronavirus pandemic.

Supermarket shelves were cleared of bottled water and police in a cruiser alerted people when supplies ran out at a distribution site in a parking lot in front of a store. Volunteers apologized to people when they ran out of water to give and urged them to come back from 5am on Wednesday

Residents can expect the water plant to be flat for days.  It is unclear when the factory will be up and running again

Residents can expect the water plant to be flat for days. It is unclear when the factory will be up and running again

Governor Reeves (above) announced Monday that there isn't enough water to

Governor Reeves (above) announced Monday that there isn’t enough water to “put out fires” or “flush toilets” among “other critical needs”

“It’s a painful feeling when you don’t have water, especially when you have newborn babies,” Monica Lashay Bass, a mother of three, said from her car after standing in line for her bottled water allotment.

People in Jackson have long complained about their water supply.

A pair of winter storms in February 2021 caused most of Jackson’s residents to briefly lose running water, and a year ago the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order saying the water supply could contain E. coli, according to Mississippi Today. .

In 2016, customers were told of high lead levels in the city’s water supply due to recurring faulty water treatment techniques.

At a news conference, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba welcomed the state support, but his comments further exposed a rift between Republican state officials and the Democratic administration of a city that is more than 80% African American.

The governor claimed the water treatment plant had suffered from years of city mismanagement, while the mayor accused the state of being absent from efforts to maintain and modernize the plant.

Suitcases of water bottles are handed out to residents in 'hugely complicated logistical task'

Suitcases of water bottles are handed out to residents in ‘hugely complicated logistical task’

An approach road to the Pearl River is blocked by floodwater in Jackson, Mississippi

An approach road to the Pearl River is blocked by floodwater in Jackson, Mississippi

“We’ve been doing it alone for almost two years,” Lumumba said. “And now we’re excited to finally welcome the state to the table and all the valuable resources they bring with them.”

Each side had been given a different story about what had happened, although they agreed on important facts on Tuesday afternoon.

The governor, who previously blamed pump failures, confirmed on Tuesday what the mayor had said: that floodwater entered the treatment plant, changing the water’s chemistry, making existing treatment inadequate and forcing a shutdown.

Even before the crisis, the city had faced a boiling water warning for the past month due to “increased turbidity levels,” making the water appear cloudy.

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