Jackson Mississippi water system

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is providing ongoing updates on the response to the Jackson water crisis. See below for related summaries and updates.


Upstream Sourcing: Water is sourced from the Pearl River, Ross Barnett Reservoir (just northwest of the city, see map below), and six wells drawing on the Sparta Aquifer. The Pearl River typically flows through Jackson at a depth of under ten feet. Flooding that began on August 22 reached over thirty-five feet on August 29. This morning (August 31) the river level continues to be above thirty feet.

Upstream Processing: Water is treated for safe consumption by Jackson residents at the J.H. Fewell plant (originally constructed in 1908 to draw on the Pearl River) (more and more) and the O.B. Curtis plant, originally built in the late 1980s to draw on the Ross Barnett Reservoir (more and more). Each well also injects chemical treatments.

Midstream Distribution: Pumping is required to feed the distribution network. Some primary pumps failed well before the last several days of flooding. Backup pumps failed on Monday, August 29, according to some reports. [There are conflicting reports on the location and cause of pump failures.] Water towers are not being consistently refilled. Flooding combined with aging infrastructure has exacerbated leaks and breaks in water mains. The related loss of water pressure has reduced network flow by at least forty percent. The current quantity and quality of distributed water is insufficient to serve the population.

Downstream Consumption: The water system has been operating with a boil order since July 29 due to quality concerns (more and more and more). Because of the flood-related processing and distribution issues outlined above, early this week the Governor of Mississippi, explained, “we do not have reliable running water at scale… It means the city cannot produce enough water to fight fires, to reliably flush toilets, and to meet other critical needs.” According to Mississippi emergency management officials, 10 tractor trailer loads of drinking water arrived Tuesday and 108 more truckloads are en route. More than 160,000 water consumers are impacted. On August 30, President Biden declared an emergency and directed FEMA, “to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Hinds County.”

Very Preliminary Strategic Assessment: While Lake-Mead-like events are an increasing threat (more), sourcing is not the most common cause for supply chain challenges. As in Jackson sourcing can be both abundant and redundant, problems should still be anticipated.

Especially for significant concentrations of demand, flows usually depend on concentrated processing and/or distribution. The two water processing plants serving Jackson are obvious critical nodes. Such nodes usually host a set of interdependent functional bottlenecks. Pumps are an example — as are grid connections, chemical supplies, competent personnel, and much more. [The August 30 Mississippi EMA Incident Command Brief specifically calls out, “Both O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell water treatment plants lack sufficient Class A Operators and maintenance staff.”] Bottlenecks can become chokepoints. Especially for “significant concentrations of demand” (aka lots of people), restored functionality of preexisting bottlenecks is almost always the only sustainable, practical solution.

In many cases, extended stress eventually prompts an amplified shock (more). Since at least 1980, the city of Jackson has experienced a steady decline in population, from just over 200,000 then to just under 150,000 today (more and more). Roughly one-quarter of the city’s residents meet the federal definition for living in poverty. The median household income is $40,000, compared to a national median of over $67,000. The ability to pay for a wide range of city services, infrastructure maintenance, and anticipatory adaptation has seriously degraded overtime. Jackson is not unique in this regard.

September 1 Update: According to the August 31 Incident Command Brief pumping has resumed — and surged — at the J.H. Fewell plant (more). A new backup pump has now been installed at the O.B. Curtis plant. Total volumes remained about forty percent below normal most of Wednesday. Pressure of about 87 pounds per square inch is needed for optimal flows. On August 31 40 PSI was measured in many locations. Most elevated water towers are reported to be nearly drained. Some improved system pressure is anticipated by this morning. Distribution of bottled drinking water and bulk water is expanding.

September 2 Update: According to the September 1 Incident Command Brief as of 1800 Central Time on September 1, water volume was close to 57 percent of authorized network capacity. An average pressure of 74.3 pounds per square inch was being measured for the full network. Achieving 87PSI has been the goal. Last evening at least one elevated water tank remained empty, a second was almost empty. There are ten tanks serving the surface water system, all are considerably less than full. There are three elevated tanks serving the well system. I don’t know about the ability of the Jackson water system to sequester pressure zones. Pressure usually builds overnight as (– if) usage declines. Reestablishing the network’s volume and pressure will restore sanitary and fire-suppression capacity. A fully pressurized system also reduces the risk of water contamination. Long before the recent flood-related shocks, Jackson’s water system has experienced serious challenges maintaining minimum drinking water standards. Human hydration will require continued boiling and distribution of bottled water until the preexisting network is restored to close to full capacity — both in terms of quantity and quality. Friday afternoon update: The mayor of Jackson reports that discharged water from the O.B. Curtis plant has now achieved 80PSI for a sustained period. Six of the tanks serving the surface water system are now at a sufficient level to support system-wide pressure and progress is being made with the remaining. The mayor is now concerned that higher pressures may increase the number of pipe ruptures.

September 3 Update: The most recent Incident Command Brief suggests an improved ability to sustain progress on building water volumes and pressure, but continued challenges with intake and pumping capacity at the O.B. Curtis plant.

September 4 Update: Sounds like there was significant progress yesterday (Saturday). According to the Incident Command Brief volumes discharging from O.B. Curtis are increasing. Last night total flows were equivalent to 63 percent of authorized system capacity. Systemwide pressure is reported at just over 80PSI. Most elevated towers have achieved a sufficient level to sustain pressure. Barring a new disruption (not impossible), towers should have further filled overnight. If the current PSI can be maintained, priority can shift from water quantity to quality… which in any case has also been receiving attention. Current conditions substantially enhance sanitary and fire suppression capacity. Water quality issues long preceded the current crisis. (More and more and more).

September 5 Update: Volume and pressure are now sustainably restored. Intake, discharge, pumping, and tower levels are now sufficient to supply demand. So far the distribution network has mostly maintained its integrity. Water quality remains insufficient for safe human hydration. (Here and here and here and here).

September 6 Update: Progress continues on maintaining quantity and improving quality. Further information here and here and here.

On September 15 at 1:00PM Central Time the boil order in place since July 29 was rescinded. Further information here and here and here.

Map generated by PolicyMap based on 2020 Census