Boil and conserve: Treatment issues and hot weather put strain on Jackson water

A combination of an ammonia leak and improper water treatment has forced all of Jackson’s water customers to boil their water for nearly two weeks straight now. Those boil water notices came only days after the city asked residents to conserve what water they were using because of hotter than average weather. 

City of Jackson officials on Thursday did not have a definitive timeline for lifting the boil water notice, but said the service may be back to fully functioning as early as Friday for well system customers, and as early as Saturday for surface system customers. 

Officials issued the first citywide notice on June 24, after an ammonia leak as well as filtration issues at the O.B. Curtis water treatment plant forced operators to reduce pressure. While the pressure has been restored, Jackson is still working to answer a second citywide notice that the state health department issued on June 30. 

The Mississippi State Department of Health issued the notice because “turbidity levels,” or cloudiness, in the water were too high. Turbidity itself isn’t harmful, but high levels mean a higher likelihood of disease-causing organisms, which can lead to symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

City officials explained on Thursday that operators use two chemicals to maintain the pH in the water: soda ash and a lime slurry. At the time, the soda ash operation “was not working,” and operators used too much lime in the treatment, causing the high turbidity.

Jackson residents have now received over 50 boil water notices since the start of 2022, according to the city’s press releases. Only the two recent notices covered the whole city. 

On June 21, the city issued a water conservation advisory because of expected hotter than average temperatures this summer, asking residents to take showers instead of baths, only run full loads in dishwashers and laundry machines, among other measures.

The city requires a number of fixes to bring the system as a whole up to par: hiring more operators for its two treatment plants, upgrading equipment at the plants, and replacing aging distribution lines.  

In May, Jackson announced the construction of a new 48-inch distribution line, using about $8 million of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, was underway. The new line is aimed at improving water pressure in the South Jackson, Belhaven, Belhaven Heights, Eastern downtown and I-55 south corridor neighborhoods.

In total, the city has allocated $25 million of the ARPA funds it received for water and sewer improvements. But through county and matching funds the city could receive an additional $33 million, the Clarion Ledger reported in April. 

The city said it plans to distribute bottles of water to residents every day until the boil water notice is lifted. 

The notices advise that residents bring their water to a boil for a minute before drinking as well as: cooking or baking, making ice cubes, taking medication, brushing teeth, washing food, mixing baby formula or food, mixing juices or drinks, feeding pets, washing dishes and all other consumption.

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