A free water giveaway at the Grove Park Community Center in Jackson, generated hundreds of vehicles lined up miles, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The drinking water system in Jackson — Mississippi’s largest city and home to more than 160,000 residents — is failing, state officials announced on Monday.

Thousands of Jackson residents have no or little water pressure, and though local, state and federal officials are working to restore reliable service, they cannot yet say when that will happen.

Mississippi Today has compiled a list of answers to some commonly asked questions submitted by readers about the water crisis. This post will be updated.

What’s happening with the water in Jackson?

In late July, the state health department issued a city-wide boil water notice for Jackson because of turbidity, or cloudiness in the water. A couple weeks later in early August, city officials announced that some customers may experience low water pressure because of issues with the pumps at the O.B. Curtis treatment plant.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said on Monday that flooding from the Pearl River forced plant operators to change how they were treating the water, and that the whole city could see low water pressure as a result. Gov. Tate Reeves later on Monday blamed the low pressure on the poor-performing pumps. Lumumba has since reiterated that the flooding is the main issue at hand, while Reeves has since said the low pressure results from a combination of the two problems.

Since Monday, many homes in Jackson have seen lower or no water pressure, and state and city officials have instructed the city not to consume the water without boiling it first.

Where can I go to get water?

Many organizations, along with the City of Jackson, are distributing water for free at locations across the city. Find a list of addresses here. For those with mobility issues, call the city’s constituent services or 311, although officials urge people to reserve that line for those who can’t get water otherwise.

If I have water, is it safe to use?

Water is not safe to consume unless boiled for one minute. Residents should also use boiled water for making ice, brushing their teeth, washing dishes and other food preparation, the state health department says. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said it is safe to use unboiled water for baths and showers as well as washing hands and clothes, but people should avoid letting water get in their mouths.

What are state and city leaders doing to fix this?

While Mayor Lumumba has said for the better part of two years that the drinking water system is in a constant state of emergency and that the city does not have the funds to fix it, Jackson has begun to use new federal funds on a number of projects to improve the system, such as building a new distribution line to alleviate pressure issues, as well as weatherizing the O.B.Curtis plant to help prevent shutdowns like what Jackson saw after the winter storms in 2021.

After reluctance to provide additional funding to the city, Gov. Tate Reeves has this week thrown state resources into Jackson to help diagnose and fix the problems at the treatment plant. State health department officials are now working from the plant in-person, and Reeves said the state will cover half the costs of emergency maintenance, repairs, and improvements. 

What is the federal government doing?

Late Tuesday night President Joe Biden approved a federal emergency declaration for the Jackson water crisis, which will provide federal resources to assist local and state officials. Emergency protective measures, the White House said, will be provided at 75% federal funding for a period of 90 days.

Do you know how long it will be before the systems are back working?

Officials cannot say when things will be fixed, but have warned it’s not an immediate fix. Gov. Reeves and other officials have said as fixes are made at the plant, there is concern other things will break because of neglected maintenance — and the plant lacks “redundancy” and staff to maintain these repairs as well. 

State, local and even federal officials are in talks of more permanent solutions. 

Is raw water really flowing through the pipes in Jackson? How long will the water be unsafe to drink?

At a press conference Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves said “raw” water from the Ross Barnett Reservoir had been pumped through the drinking water system. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba later said this was inaccurate, and officials later clarified it is more accurate to say the water has not been optimally treated and is still not safe to drink.

Officials cannot say how long before water issues will be solved.

How long should I boil my water?

The Mississippi State Department of Health recommends Jacksonians boil water vigorously for one minute and let cool before consuming.

Can I bathe in this water? Wash my hands?

Health officials say the water is safe to use for bathing and handwashing, but should not be consumed without boiling first for one minute.

Can I use my dishwasher if I still have water pressure?

The Mississippi State Department of Health has said to use boiled water to clean dishes.

What can I do to help?

The Community Foundation for Mississippi has compiled a helpful resource page that includes information about how to give to organizations working to help Jacksonians. Visit their resource page here. People can also contact the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency on ways to help at memainfo@mema.ms.gov.

How many people are impacted?

Officials don’t know how many households are impacted by low or no water pressure. Gov. Reeves said Tuesday it was impossible to say how many of the roughly 160,000 people served by the system are without water — that it depends on how close one is to a water tank, elevation and numerous other factors. But Jim Craig, director of health protection for the state health department, said that the O.B. Curtis plant, rated for 50 million gallons of water a day, on Tuesday was only pushing about 30 million gallons.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.

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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 NBC.com. 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.