With system pressure up, could Jackson be closer to having boil water notice lifted?

Published: Sep. 5, 2022 at 10:30 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson officials say the city could begin testing the water again this week if the pressure in the system remains high.

Monday, the city reported that pressure at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant had reached 87 pounds per square inch, holding steady overnight and into the morning.

The news comes days into the city’s ongoing water crisis and a week after the state stepped in to help make repairs at Curtis, Jackson’s primary treatment facility.

City and state officials say that higher pressure means improved service for customers across the city. Meanwhile, the liquid soda ash feed at the Curtis plant was re-established, and “progress was made in improving and restoring the solids treatment process.”

“Of course, the big question that everyone wants to know is when will Jackson be off the mandatory boil water notice,” Jim Craig, director of the Office of Health Protection with Mississippi State Department of Health said at a Monday press conference. “Critical processes, such as the chemical balancing the system, are needed before that can be removed.”

“I’m very hopeful that we’ll get some investigative sampling done out in the system,” he added. “Over the weekend, we were able to make sure all of the air that might be in the system had been bled out. So, that’s a good first step. And I believe the investigative sampling will help us indicate whether it’s for us to begin the sampling for bacteria. It is my hope by mid-week, we may begin some of [that testing].”

Soda ash is the chemical used to treat water coming into the facility. The city switched to soda ash several years ago to cut down on the corrosivity of the water, something that caused lead to leach into the water supply entering older homes.

The city is currently facing numerous legal challenges due to lead entering the water.

However, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said recently that the city temporarily switched to a lime slurry due to the humidity causing the soda ash to clump. The use of that slurry, in turn, led to increased turbidity levels in the water.

“Yesterday, we were able to do a hot tap on a line to bring in liquid soda ash. The plant normally uses just normal soda ash in dry form to create a slurry. Liquid lime is still being used to help in the alkalinity adjustments,” Craig said. “We’re very hopeful if we get liquid soda ash placed in the system, it could help [in] abating some of the lead concerns that the EPA and... the health department has.”

Due to turbidity issues, the city has been under a boil water notice since July 29. That boil notice likely was a prelude to a much bigger problem that occurred late last month, when equipment failures at the Curtis plant failed, causing a loss in water pressure and service for more than 150,000 people.

Since then, the state has stepped in to help get the plant back into operation and has brought in the National Guard to help distribute bottled water to residents.

Priority one was increasing the quantity of water being produced, Gov. Tate Reeves previously stated. Priority two was restoring water quality.

“Moving the plant from intensive care to recovery will take time. But we now have a palpable heartbeat that is much stronger than what we had just a few days ago,” Craig said.

Work continued on the plant on Monday, with city, state, and federal workers, as well as “mutual aid teams” from the Mississippi and Georgia rural water associations and the Louisiana Department of Health pitching in.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to begin the sampling process midweek,” the city said in a news release prior to the governor’s press briefing. “This is contingent upon sustained pressure. We need two rounds of clear samples to be able to lift the boil water notice.”

While the system improves, the release states that the city is still facing numerous challenges. It is asking residents who are experiencing discolored water or who still have no pressure to report it via this online survey.

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