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Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) said Monday he is open to privatizing the water system for the City of Jackson following multiple water pumps failing last week after severe storms caused the Pearl River to flood, which increased the risk of bacterial contamination.
“Privatization is on the table,” Reeves said. “Having a commission that oversees failed water systems as they have in many states is on the table — I’m open to ideas.”
Reeves’ comments come after officials announced that improvements have occurred since the governor said the prior week that the state would take “historic and unprecedented” steps to intervene in the city’s water supply after reaching crisis levels.
“Not only were there issues with the quality of the water, but with the quantity of the water,” Reeves said. “The city could not produce enough running water for Jacksonians.”
Flooding in Jackson has left approximately 150,000 residents without clean water to drink.
However, health officials informed the governor that the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant had begun pumping out cleaner water than the city had seen in a “very, very long time.” Reeves added that he hoped authorities could measure potential clean water and remove the “boil water” notice within days.
The city has been under the “boil water” notice since July 29, 2022.
“We know that it is always possible that there will be more severe challenges,” Reeves said. “This water system broke over several years, and it would be inaccurate to claim it is totally solved in the matter of less than a week.”
Reeves reminded residents to prepare for “more bad days in the future,” but said that officials have reached a place where Jackson residents could trust the water “will come out of the faucet, toilets can be flushed, and fires can be put out.”
The Hill reports that Deanne Criswell, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, said Sunday that the date when residents could access drinkable water remains unknown.
Criswell further noted that distributing bottled water to impacted residents remains the agency’s primary focus with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Jackson’s water supply has faced multiple interruptions over the past several decades. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of noncompliance to city leadership for not “repairing and maintaining equipment necessary to reliably produce drinking water.”
The governor accused city officials of failing to notify federal and state governments of a plan to fix the water system’s issues and claimed the water plant staff abandoned the post where the failure happened.
Axios reports that Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba responded to Governor Tate Reeves’ criticism on Tuesday, saying that the city is currently working to stabilize the plant’s low water pressure.
Lumumba had also shared documents requesting funding to improve the water treatment plant with a list of critical repairs needed.
Ben Zeisloft contributed to this report.