September 24, 2022

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Tate Reeves and Jackson officials said a boil-water notice was lifted Thursday in Mississippi’s capital city after nearly seven weeks.

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“We have restored clean water,” Reeves said during a news conference.

But Jim Craig, a state health department official, said concerns remained about the levels of copper and lead in Jackson’s water. Craig said people should avoid using city water to prepare baby formula.

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Emergency repairs are still underway after most customers lost service for several days in late August and early September due to problems at Jackson’s main water treatment plant.

The problems began days after torrential rain fell in central Mississippi, altering the quality of raw water entering Jackson’s treatment plants. This slowed the healing process, reduced the supply to the water tanks, and caused a significant drop in pressure.

When water pressure drops, there is a possibility that untreated groundwater can enter the water system through cracked pipes, so customers are asked to boil the water to kill potentially harmful bacteria.

But even before the rains, officials said some water pumps had failed and a treatment plant was using backup pumps. Jackson was already under a month-long boil-water notice because the state health department found cloudy water that could make people sick.

The National Guard and volunteer groups have distributed millions of bottles of drinking water in Jackson since late August.

Jackson is the largest city in one of the poorest states in America. The city has a shrinking tax base that stems from the white flight, which began nearly a decade after public schools were integrated in the 1970s. Jackson’s population is over 80% black, and about 25% of its residents live in poverty.

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Like many US cities, Jackson struggles with aging infrastructure along water lines that crack or collapse. Democrat Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumba in the Republican-led state said the city’s water problems stem from decades of deferred maintenance.

Some equipment froze during a cold early 2020 at Jackson’s main water purification plant, leaving thousands of customers with dangerously low water pressure or no water at all. The National Guard helped in the distribution of drinking water. People collected water in buckets to flush toilets. Similar problems occurred on a smaller scale earlier this year.

Jackson is often reported to have boiled water due to low pressure or other problems contaminating the water. Some mandates are only for a few days, while others last weeks. Some affect only specific neighborhoods, usually due to broken pipes in the area. Others affect all customers on the water system.