By Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) – Residents of Mississippi's capital are ending the year unable to count on clean running water in their homes after a freezing winter storm brought a fresh crisis to Jackson's beleaguered water infrastructure.
Residents of the majority-Black city say their main water treatment plant has been poorly maintained and funded for years. In August, its pumps failed entirely, overwhelmed by historic flooding along the Pearl River, cutting off running water entirely for Jackson's 150,000 residents and about 30,000 people in the surrounding area.
The huge winter storm that caused chaos across the United States in the days before Christmas and killed more than 30 people in upstate New York brought unusually frigid weather to the Deep South. Other Southern cities unaccustomed to freezing weather were grappling with similar water issues, including Atlanta; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Selma, Alabama.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a Democrat, on Sunday announced once again that all residents must boil water before using it for cooking or drinking. Homes in some parts of the city had no water at all, and officials have set up distribution points for bottled drinking water each day.
The freeze caused dozens of burst pipes and other leaks, which were still being discovered as emergency crews combed the city, Lumumba said at a news briefing on Wednesday.
It would likely take until Saturday at the earliest to find and fix the leaks, restore the water pressure and perform safety tests, he said.
"I will say that that is a bit of an ambitious goal," he said.
The latest crisis made for a glum celebration of the Christmas holiday that was already set to be Jackson's coldest in decades.
"It was too much for me to try to cook," said Maati Jone Primm, owner of Marshall's Music and Book Store. "It was miserable."
Primm, 61, said the latest crisis stemmed from decades of underfunding of the city by the majority-white state government, beginning in the 1970s when white residents began to leave the city in ever-swelling numbers. Now, more than 80% residents are Black.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, has said that the problems stem from incompetence and corruption at the local level.
The U.S. Justice Department in November reached an agreement with Mississippi and the city of Jackson to appoint an interim third-party manager to stabilize the city's drinking water supply. The Justice Department also a filed a complaint against the city on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency over the problems.
The mayor says fixing the water system will take billions of dollars. The U.S. Congress included $600 million to repair Jackson's water system in a spending bill signed into law last week.
After days of bone-dry faucets, Primm said she awoke on Wednesday to find that a weak water flow had been restored.
"A shower is out of the question," the bookstore owner said, "but even a trickle is better than nothing at all."
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Mark Porter)
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