After a month and a half of Jacksonians needing to boil their water for consumption, the Mississippi State Health Department finally lifted the advisory at 1 p.m. on Thursday.
Gov. Tate Reeves announced the news shortly after, cautioning there’s a long road ahead to ensure similar water system failures don’t occur again in Jackson.
“While we have restored water quality, this system is still imperfect,” Reeves said. “We cannot perfectly predict what may go wrong with such a broken system in the future.”
When asked by reporters about the next steps for managing the capital city’s drinking water, Reeves laid out the possibility that Jackson will not regain control of the system after the state declared a public health emergency and took it over.
“To the residents of Jackson, I would simply say, I don’t think it’s very likely that the city is going to operate the water system in the city of Jackson anytime soon, if ever again,” the governor said.
Reeves reiterated that any decision to remove the water system from city control would have to go through the state Legislature.
State officials first took control of operations and emergency repairs at Jackson’s primary treatment plant, O.B. Curtis, after the governor’s announcement on Aug. 29 that the plant was on the verge of failure.
The state is also taking the next steps to contract a project manager to handle equipment issues at O.B. Curtis, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency executive director Stephen McCraney explained. The request for qualifications window closed Thursday at noon, and MEMA will review applications before it picks a vendor.
The goal for the contractor, Reeves said, is to increase redundancies at the plant in the case of future equipment failure.
Before Jackson residents return to drinking water straight from their taps again, the Mississippi State Department of Health says they should first run their faucets for three to four minutes to allow clean water to recirculate. Residents can visit MSDH’s website for a full list of next steps after a boil water notice.
However, the department also warned Thursday that pregnant people and young children are still advised to follow precautions before using or consuming tap water.
The state’s announcement on Thursday that it was lifting the boil water notice suggested a lack of communication with City of Jackson officials.
On Wednesday, the city said in its daily update that full sampling required to lift the notice had not yet started, and that officials were still investigating when sampling could begin. Per state health requirements, the state health department has to record two straight days of clean samples to lift the notice.
When asked by a reporter for clarification, Reeves said, “I don’t read the city’s daily reports and I don’t think you should either.”
After another reporter asked what he meant by that, Reeves refrained from further criticizing the city, only saying that he recommends people use MEMA’s updates for the latest information on the water system.
MSDH Director of Health Protection Jim Craig also reminded Jackson residents, particularly young children and pregnant people, to take precautions consuming and using tap water because of the potential for lead in the water system until the city finishes the necessary corrosion control in the distribution system.
“Although the majority of home lead testing performed to date identified no lead or lead below the action level set by the (Environmental Protection Agency), the health department is continuing its recommendations as a special precaution, especially for households with young children or pregnant women,” Craig said.
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