(CNN)It was only a matter of time before the water system in Jackson, Mississippi, failed, authorities said, and this week those concerns became a reality, leaving residents with no reliable running water in their homes and forcing schools and businesses to close.
The system has been plagued with problems for years and the city was already under a boil water notice since late July. Now residents are contending with no water coming out of their faucets, or at times seeing brown water.Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced the main water treatment facility in the capital city began failing Monday, meaning it couldn’t produce enough water to fight fires, reliably flush toilets and meet other critical needs.Everyone knew Jackson's water crisis was comingCassandra Welchlin, a mother of three, told CNN her kids are out of school and they’ve had to buy water to cook, brush their teeth and for other basic necessities.Welchlin, executive director of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, said brown water has been running from her taps. “We still would not use that water, we don’t boil it to do anything with it because grit is in the water,” she said. “It’s a really bad public safety issue.”Read MoreJackson resident Jeraldine Watts said she was able to snag some of the last water bottle cases at a grocery store Monday. She and her family have been using bottled or boiled tap water for everything, including cooking and washing dishes.”I keep saying we’re going to be the next Michigan,” Watts said, “and it looks like that’s exactly what we’re headed for.”Flint, Michigan, was hit with a water crisis in 2015, when tainted drinking water containing lead and other toxins was detected in homes and residents reported children suffering from mysterious illnesses.In Mississippi, Reeves declared a State of Emergency, activated the Mississippi National Guard, and said the state is surging resources to the city and beginning emergency maintenance. “We will do everything in our power to restore water pressure and get water flowing back to the people of Jackson,” he said.The water crisis is upending nearly all aspects of life in the city, where public schools shifted to virtual learning Tuesday.What it's like trying to survive without water in Jackson, MississippiJackson’s University of Mississippi Medical Center said air conditioning at one facility is not functioning properly and portable restrooms are being used at other facilities. At Jackson State University, there is “low to no water pressure at all campus locations,” and water is being delivered to students, officials said. The university’s head football coach, Deion Sanders, said its football program is in “crisis mode.”As crews work to get the water treatment plant back online, members of the National Guard are distributing bottled water, state officials said, but those efforts appeared unsustainable Tuesday.At a water distribution event at Hawkins Field Airport, residents were turned away when the site ran out of its 700 cases of water in just two hours.A water tower is seen in Jackson, Mississippi, Tuesday.Longstanding issues at Jackson’s troubled water system The problem this week stems from one of two water treatment facilities in the city, the O.B. Curtis plant, which has been bedeviled with a staffing shortage and three decades of deferred maintenance, according to Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.The main pumps at the plant were severely damaged recently and it began operating on smaller backup pumps about a month ago — around the time the latest boil water notice began — and this made failure increasingly likely, the governor said.Flooding of the Pearl River after recent heavy rains affected treatment processes and therefore the amount of running water the system can provide, Lumumba said.The water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, has gotten so bad, the city temporarily ran out of bottled water to give to residents“I have said on multiple occasions that it’s not a matter of ‘if’ our system would fail, but a matter of ‘when’ our system would fail,” the mayor said, adding that the city has been “going at it alone for the better part of two years” when it comes to the water crisis.Reeves said the state would split the cost of emergency repairs with the city, but the mayor said it would cost $2 billion to fully repair and replace the dated system and that’s money the city does not have. “We don’t have the funds in order to deal with 30 years of neglect,” the mayor told CNN.In early 2020, the Jackson water system failed an Environmental Protection Agency inspection, which found the drinking water had the potential to be host to harmful bacteria or parasites.In February 2021, a severe winter storm hit, freezing and bursting pipes and leaving many residents without water for a month.”Since that time, there has not been a month where we have not experienced no-flow to low-flow in certain areas in south Jackson, and so it’s very frustrating,” Jackson City Councilman Aaron Banks told CNN.”The sad part about it is — and the sad reality — is this is becoming somewhat of a norm and we deserve a better quality of life right here in the capital city of Jackson, Mississippi,” Banks said.In July 2021, the EPA and the city entered into an agreement to address “long-term challenges and make needed improvements to the drinking water system.” The EPA also recently announced $74.9 million in federal water and sewer infrastructure funds for Mississippi.Signs limit water purchases at a Kroger in Jackson, Mississippi, Tuesday.What the government is doing Lumumba told CNN’s Pamela Brown the city is working on more water distribution events. Ten tractor trailer loads of water were expected to arrive in Jackson, and more than 108 semi-trucks of water are coming in over the next few days, according to Lt. Colonel Stephen McCraney, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.Beginning Thursday, there will be seven mega distribution sites with 36 truckloads of water available each a day for the public, McCraney said. Corporations like Anheuser-Busch, Walmart and Save A lot, as well as volunteer organizations are also donating water to the city, he added.'Water is a human right': City of Jackson still in dire need of infrastructure help to fight water crisisBanks said the city is also providing flushing water. “One of the first things that we realized is that people need to be able to flush because that becomes a problem as far as making sure that people have that quality of life that they need,” he said.”At the end of the day, we need a fix and the same attention that was given to Flint, Michigan, we need that same attention given to Jackson,” Banks said. Reeves said FEMA has received the declaration asking the federal government to declare the water shortage a federal emergency.President Joe Biden has been briefed on the water crisis in Jackson and the White House has “made clear that the Federal Government stands ready to offer assistance,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.”FEMA is working closely with the state officials to identify needs, and the EPA is coordinating with industry partners to expedite delivery of critical treatment equipment for emergency repairs at the City of Jackson water treatment facilities,” she said.