Motorists wait in a mile-long line on Northside Drive in Jackson on Feb. 19, 2021 for a water giveaway at the Food Depot grocery store after thousands of residents in Jackson were left without water after a historic winter storm. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Thousands of residents in Jackson, the state’s largest city, are still without running water Monday after last week’s historic winter storm disrupted the city’s aging infrastructure.

A majority of residents in south Jackson and parts of west Jackson have no water service at all, and most of the city’s entire population has low water pressure. City officials have given no official timeline for service restoration, but they said on Monday they think most of the city will have running water by midweek.

“We have to have a lot of things that go perfectly over the next couple of days,” Charles Williams, Jackson’s public works director, said on Monday. “We know we’re gonna have a couple of setbacks, but that’s what we are aiming for.”

A historic winter storm slammed the state last week, freezing and bursting many water pipes in the capital city. Jackson residents have flocked to grocery stores, making bottled water extremely difficult to come by in the metro area. Hundreds of residents have lined up at the city’s water giveaway sites, and several churches and volunteer groups have mobilized efforts to distribute water to those in need.

The first hurdle the city faced in restoring water service was restoring water pressure to the system. The pressure, which should be 80 pounds per square inch (PSI) or higher at the city’s water treatment plants, sunk to 37 PSI last Wednesday. As of Monday afternoon, pressure had been restored to 67 PSI.

When the city’s water pressure collapsed last week due to the winter storm, iced-in residents depleted the city’s water reserves, which created a cascading line of service failures. The icy roads also delayed the transportation of chemicals to treat the city’s water.

Another challenge in restoring water service will be a surge in water line breaks that is likely to occur as water pressure returns. The city has reported 25 water line breaks since last week and had repaired six of them by Monday afternoon.

In an effort to streamline the recovery and repair process going forward, the Jackson City Council voted on Monday to declare a state of local emergency. This will allow Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba to hire contractors for repairs and other services without receiving multiple bids for them.

Williams said that the maintenance crews currently repairing water main lines can handle the level of demand they’re experiencing, but that additional contractors may have to be hired if the city sees its larger water lines begin to burst with the return of pressure. Residents are asked to call 311 if they see any burst lines.

During a press conference on Monday, Lumumba acknowledged that Jackson’s water system, with its decades-old pipes and lines, are in desperate need of repair, and estimated upgrades would cost around $2 billion.

“We are long overdue for a major investment from the federal government towards city infrastructures,” Lumumba said. “We have aged infrastructure that cannot be replaced in one calendar year, it can’t be replaced, you know, even over the course of four years. It takes a lot to make such a significant investment.”

The city is continuing to distribute non-potable (flushing) water to residents. Many resorted to collecting large amounts of snow from the streets last week and melting it down just to flush their toilets. Jackson residents can bring containers to the following locations until Monday night to receive non-potable water:

  • Forest Hill High School – 2607 Raymond Road, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Raines Elementary School – 156 N Flag Chapel Road, Jackson, MS 39209

Residents can also call these numbers to report non-emergencies relating to water service disruptions:

  • 601-960-1111
  • 601-960-1777
  • 601-960-1781
  • 601-960-1778
  • 601-960-0379
  • 601-960-1779

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.