Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel arrived at the O.B. Curtis treatment plant on Friday to provide technical assistance as Jackson restores pressure in its drinking water system.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell detailed how the federal emergency declaration President Joseph Biden signed this week will help the city’s repairs.
“The funding is available to support the temporary measures to reestablish the (water) pressure but also to sustain that pressure while they’re looking at the more permanent repairs,” Criswell said. “What the emergency declaration does not do is support the permanent repairs for this facility.”
The emergency declaration also frees up funding to reimburse Mississippi for bringing clean water into Jackson, as well as for staffing the plant, she said. Criswell added while the declaration lasts for 90 days, FEMA can reevaluate during that time to decide whether or not to extend its support for a longer period.
Jim Craig, senior deputy and director at the Mississippi State Department of Health, said the pressure at O.B. Curtis climbed back up to 85 pounds per square inch (PSI) on Friday, but later dropped back down to 77 PSI because of a “chemical imbalance.” Craig clarified that the city’s equipment for measuring the pH and turbidity of the water before it enters the plant is not working, meaning that it takes longer for the operators to treat the water.
Craig also estimated that both of the plant’s out-of-service pumps, which led to water pressure issues for Jackson in early August, will be “back on site” on Sept. 9.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba warned that while progress is being made to increase water pressure, doing so may cause the city’s decades-old distribution lines to burst in the coming days.
Earlier Friday, Lumumba appeared with Rep. Bennie Thompson, White House senior advisor Mitch Landrieu, and FEMA Coordinating Officer Allan Jarvis at Grove Park, where reporters got photos of the officials handing out cases of water to a line of cars. Landrieu was scheduled to appear with Gov. Tate Reeves and Criswell at their press conference later on, but was not present.
Friday began with a miscommunication between the governor’s office and Jackson officials, who announced that Reeves and Lumumba were set to hold a press conference together that afternoon. Within an hour, the governor’s communications director Hunter Estes tweeted that the release was false.
“We have not invited city politicians to these substantive state press conferences on our repairs,” Estes wrote, “because they occur to provide honest information about the state’s work. We are investigating why they are releasing misinformation.”
City spokesperson Justin Vicory quickly let reporters know afterwards that there would be no such briefing.
The mix-up came a day after Reeves and Lumumba first appeared at a press conference together since this week’s water crisis began. The mayor called his presence there a “symbol of the unity that is taking place.”