Salvation Army and Walmart workers distribute bottled water to Jackson residents at Walmart in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, August 31, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

In the day following President Joseph Biden’s federal emergency declaration to aid Jackson’s drinking water recovery, city and state officials announced a setback in restoring pressure on Wednesday due to continuing effects from flood and rainwater on the treatment process.

After a promising increase in pressure on Tuesday, floodwaters coming in from the Ross Barnett Reservoir forced one side of the treatment plant to shut down Wednesday morning, state health officials said, lowering pressure for residents throughout Jackson.

“Around five o’clock this morning, the intake water from the (Ross Barnett) Reservoir that is still impacted by flooding and rain created a chemical imbalance with the conventional treatment side of the plant, which affected particulate removal, causing that side of the plant to be temporarily shut down, resulting in a water pressure loss from the conventional side,” said Jim Craig, Senior Deputy and Director at the Mississippi State Department of Health.

While reiterating that it’s impossible to know how many homes have low or no water pressure, Gov. Tate Reeves said that, during the afternoon, there were “very low levels in virtually every (elevated water) tank throughout” Jackson.

The goal is for the pressure at O.B. Curtis to reach 87 pounds per square inch (PSI), Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said. The pressure had climbed back up to 80 PSI on Tuesday night, he said, but fell back to 40 PSI after the setbacks on Wednesday.

At 40 PSI, most surface water customers have “low to no pressure,” a release from the city said.

While the plant is now treating and distributing water from the conventional side again, the water contains high levels of turbidity, Craig said, meaning that residents may see cloudiness and some color in their water. The state got approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to release water with high turbidity, and Craig added that despite its appearance, the water is safe to use for sanitation and is consumable when boiled.

Having evaluated the plant, the state health department has put together a list of needed fixes for O.B. Curtis, which include repairing raw water screens, replacing “quite a few” pumps and motors, and draining the sedimentation basins, which have a sludge build-up.

Jackson officials announced that a temporary water pump had been installed at O.B. Curtis and is now running, increasing the production ability by 5 million gallons of water per day.

Both Lumumba and Reeves were hopeful that the system would see gains in water pressure overnight when the demand for water is low, although Reeves added “there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done.”

“I do want to be clear and set expectations that there will be future interruptions, including the one today,” Reeves said Wednesday.

The governor detailed the ongoing water distribution effort, which, starting Thursday, will include 600 members of the National Guard, who will help give out water from the state’s “mega-sites” starting at noon. Reeves added that the Mississippi Forestry Commission and Mississippi Department of Public Safety will also be assisting.

The city is also distributing water; find a list of sites here.

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.