As Mississippi residents continue to struggle with access to safe drinking water, the state’s governor said that 600 Mississippi National Guardsmen will be deployed to Jackson, the state’s capital, to assist with distributing bottled water.
They and other groups are also being brought in to work on the O.B. Curtis Water Plant—one of the city’s two main water treatment facilities—to restore water levels and clean water.
“In the past 48 hours, we’ve installed a new rental pump, contracted with outside operators to do critical maintenance and started other emergency repairs,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves told reporters on Wednesday of the stop-gap measure to restore pressure to the water system. “We’re going to need electricians and mechanics and divers and other skilled operators to complete all of this work. It’s happening.”
“We will have Mississippi National Guard personnel deployed,” Reeves said. “Those deployments will include 600 guardsmen, 123 vehicles, bulk water distribution, bottled water, and hand sanitizer distribution. We will also employ the services of the Mississippi Forestry Commission to help with their Incident Management Assistance Team.”
Reeves said he hopes that Jackson and the surrounding areas, where about 180,000 people live, will have water service restored and running again this week, but did not provide a timeline.
Emergency Declarations From Governor, Biden
He had declared a state of emergency for Jackson on Tuesday after the O.B. Curtis Water Plant failed on Monday due to longstanding complications exacerbated by a weekend of heavy rain and flooding. Reeves had also urged residents not to drink the water.
He reiterated the message on Wednesday: “Our immediate priority is to have running water, even temporarily sacrificing some quality standards where we absolutely have to fulfill basic sanitary and safety needs. That means we continue to emphasize, ‘Do not drink the water from the pipes if you can avoid it.’ Boil it if you must use the water.”
Jackson’s residents on Wednesday waited in long lines at water distribution sites where volunteers handed out cases of bottled water. People also sought out water at local stores.
The state had brought in 10 tractor-trailers of non-potable water as part of its response. It was expecting more than 100 trucks in the coming days, Stephen McCraney, the state emergency management director, told reporters on Tuesday. The non-potable supplies are intended for flushing toilets and washing clothes.
Biden Administration Involvement
To supplement the state’s response, the Biden administration late on Tuesday approved a separate emergency declaration over Mississippi’s water crisis and order for federal assistance.
“Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent Federal funding for a period of 90 days,” the White House said in a statement late on Tuesday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “is working closely with the state officials to identify needs,” and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “is coordinating with industry partners to expedite delivery of critical treatment equipment for emergency repairs at the city of Jackson water treatment facilities,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday.
She also said that $450 million had been allocated for water upgrades across the state, with $20 million of that amount allotted to the city of Jackson for water and sewer infrastructure needs, as a provision of the American Rescue Plan, a massive spending bill that Biden signed in March 2021.
“The state has committed to match that commitment. We have also made about $75 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding available this year to provide clean and safe water across the state of Mississippi,” she said Tuesday.
Jean-Pierre later said on Wednesday there is also “$30.9 million through the EPA’s revolving loan funds for treatment and distribution system improvements for Jackson, Mississippi, specifically.”
Also, for long-term support, “we announced $300,000 as part of the administration’s Justice40 Initiative for the Army Corps to conduct a validation study to reduce flooding from the Pearl River in Jackson, Mississippi,” she told reporters.
Reuters contributed to this report.