Pressure mounts to fix water issues in Mississippi capital

August 9, 2022 GMT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A business group and one of Mississippi’s largest unions have issued separate statements urging renewed action to address Jackson’s “water crisis.”

In a Monday joint letter and news conference, 46 business owners in the capital city said back-to-back citywide boil water notices and citywide water outages have had “dramatic negative consequences” for restaurants.

“This letter serves as our first formal attempt to focus attention on this crisis and to engage with our City, County and State leadership with the intent of applying pressure to get action,” the letter reads.

The letter outlined the added costs for restaurants when the city’s water supply is interrupted. Demand for ice has spiked as vendors are required to obtain it from vendors with access to an approved water supply. As a result, some restaurants are using vendors as far away as Meridian, a city about 92 miles (148 kilometers) east of Jackson, the letter said.

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To prepare food and for employees to wash hands, wares and utensils, restaurants have to either boil or purchase water. They also have to buy canned soft drinks instead of using beverage fountains. Coffee service grinds to a halt, the restaurant owners said.

“All of this comes at a tremendous cost to restaurant owners. Some owners reported spending as much as $500 each day on these items,” they wrote.

In separate comments, officials with the Mississippi Association of Educators, a union representing school employees, said the water system creates added challenges for Jackson Public Schools.

“When the water system fails, JPS schools are also forced to transition to online learning,” Antonio Catanon Luna, MAE’s executive director, said in a paper published Monday. “This destabilizes students’ learning environment and places economic stress on families.”

A poll conducted by the association showed that 96% of participants said they believe Jackson’s water is unsafe to drink, WJTV-TV reported.

Erica Jones, MAE’s president, said the water issues cause longer restroom breaks for students, longer wait times for cafeteria food and less time in the classroom.

In a news conference of his own Monday, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, which serves the Jackson area, is “under a perpetual state of emergency.” He also said his office is working to address the issue through routine meetings with the state health department and federal officials at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Mississippi State Department of Health issued a boil water notice for all surface water connections in the city, citing high levels of turbidity, or cloudiness, in the water. The notice, which was still in place Monday, affects 43,000 connections, WLBT-TV said.