Madonna Manor maintenance supervisor Lamar Jackson, left, stacks bottled water brought by Mac Epps of Mississippi Move, as part of the supply efforts by city councilman and State Rep. De'Keither Stamps to a senior residence in west Jackson on Feb. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Thousands of residents in Jackson are still without water service two weeks after a historic winter storm slammed the state, freezing and bursting many water pipes in the capital city.

Officials cannot estimate how many residents are without water in Jackson, the state’s largest city that is at least 80% Black, and they cannot say definitively when water service will be restored. Pockets of west Jackson and a majority of south Jackson are the areas hit hardest by service disruptions — a reality officials attribute to the distance between these neighborhoods and the city’s water treatment plants.

Over the course of the water crisis, 80 water main breaks and leaks have been reported across the city. As of Sunday night, the city’s water maintenance department had completed 51 repairs. Crews completing the repairs have described city pipes, some over 100 years old, as brittle, underscoring the need for a vast overhaul of the city’s aging infrastructure.

“We are glad to see that the process is working. While it isn’t working to the speed we would like to see, we are glad to know that we are on the right track,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said during a Sunday press conference. “We’re not happy until we can restore water service to every single last person in this city.”

Meaningful infrastructure repairs have been put off for decades by city leaders, who have had to craft budgets in recent years with a diminished tax revenue base. Lumumba has estimated that updating Jackson’s water system to prevent future crises would cost around $2 billion, which is more than six times the city’s annual budget.

“If Jackson don’t do something to fix all of its aging pipes here, I’m afraid we just might be the next Flint, MI,” one resident said on the city’s Facebook page.

City crews traveled around areas of south and west Jackson yesterday, opening up fire hydrants to release trapped air out of the water system that had built up after water reserves were depleted during the winter storm. 

Charles Williams, Jackson’s public works director, said on Sunday that the city had restored water pressure to its targeted 90 pounds per square inch (PSI) at the OB Curtis water treatment plant. Along with maintaining that pressure, recovery now depends on their ability to distribute water throughout the system.

Many residents have complained on the city’s Facebook page and support lines that car washes near their homes are still operating while their neighborhoods are still without water. 

“Stop saying conserve and do something. Stop the car washes. We have lived with inadequate water for years,” a resident wrote on the city’s Facebook page. 

Citizens who have experienced significant leaks due to burst pipes are asked to keep copies of the plumbing statements for their repairs so they can apply for a leak adjustment to their bills from the Water Sewer Business Administration (WSBA).

The entire city is still under a boil water notice, and residents with water services are being asked to lower their consumption as much as possible to speed up the restoration of city reserves.

“Ultimately what we need from the state and federal government is long-term support so we can weatherize these facilities,” Lumumba said.

READ MORE: Winter storm prompts review of Mississippi’s electric, gas, water infrastructure

No update has been given on when or if the state will request federal disaster relief to aid state and local relief efforts. On Feb. 23, Gov. Tate Reeves said that county and municipal agencies were working on damage reports and that he would request federal aid when those were completed. As of Monday afternoon, damage reports were still coming in to the Governor’s office. For Reeve’s to request a federal emergency declaration, a cumulative threshold of $4.5 million in reported damages has to be reached.

Last week, the state secured more tanker trucks of non-potable water for Jackson, and Reeves deployed the Mississippi National Guard to assist with Jackson relief efforts. 

Non-potable (flushing) water will be available on Monday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Forest Hill High School – 2607 Raymond Road, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Raines Elementary School – 156 N. Flag Chapel Road, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Callaway High School – 601 Beasley Rd, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Provine High School – 2400 Robinson St, Jackson, MS 39209
  • New Mt Zion Missionary Baptist Church – 140 Maple St, Jackson, MS 39203
  • Davis Road Park – 5901 Terry Road Byram, MS 39272
  • Walton Elementary School – 3200 Bailey Avenue, Jackson, MS 39213

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.