Broken water pipe in Jackson, Miss., leaks 5 million gallons per day

(UI) — The leak at the old Colonial Country Club in Jackson, Miss., wasted an estimated 5 million gallons of drinking water daily in a community that had none to spare, forcing citizens to boil their tap water and businesses to close because their faucets were dry.

The incident leaked enough water to serve the needs of 50,000 people, or one-third of the city residents, the New York Times (NYT) reported.

The exact moment the leak grew to its present scale is unknown. However, newly appointed water officials claim that despite the fact that the water wentuged out a hole the size of a swimming pool in the ground and that city residents were subjected to drinking water shortages repeatedly, the city knew about the broken mainline pipe in 2016 and did nothing to stop it from spewing water.

Due to decades of poor management, deteriorating equipment, and a string of poor choices that cost the utility money it didn't have, Jackson's water system has been on the verge of collapse. The Justice Department and the city came to a deal in 2022 that called for the city to hire an outside management to administer the water agency.

The city's residents have had to put up with repeated boil water alerts that travel the city like rolling blackouts. In preparation for the upcoming wave of boil notices, many have learnt to stockpile bottled water. Many thousands of people at once may be unable to use faucets due to intermittent low water pressure.

“The size of the leak is probably not uncommon,” Jordan Hillman, COO of JXN Water, the management company formed last year to lead Jackson’s effort to stabilize its water service, told the NYT. “The time it took to respond to it is very uncommon. Most places would see this as an immediate threat because that’s a ticking time bomb. As it eats the ground out away from it, you’re eventually going to have a catastrophic failure.”

Why the municipal and water agency did not fix the leak sooner is unknown. Inquiries about the downed wire on Wednesday were not immediately answered by Melissa Faith Payne, a city representative. Both Kishia Powell and Tony Yarber, who held executive posts in 2016 and served as the public works director and former mayor of Jackson, respectively, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The scale of the Colonial Country Club leak and the length of time it went unattended hint at the enormous challenge that local and state leaders must undertake in order to come up with a long-lasting fix. A two-person team led by Ted Henifin, a recently appointed water czar, has searched the city for leaks or closed water valves, which can also influence water pressure.

They have frequently closed the valves by themselves. In general, fixing leaks takes more time and money. According to Hillman, one of the leaks is spraying water like a geyser 30 feet into the air and costing the city as much as 1 million gallons every day.

One of two main lines that transport water from the OB Curtis Water Plant to smaller transmission lines that eventually link to thousands of consumers throughout the city is broken under the golf course. South Jackson, a region of the city that has been hardest hit by outages and boil water advisories, depends on the 48-inch pipe.

When he observed a damaged pipe pumping water into the creek along the back of his property line, Luke Guarisco, who owns the land where the golf course had stood, told the NYT he reported the leak several years ago. Guarisco said he didn't know about the enormous hole the leak has since made because he lived elsewhere.

Water systems frequently experience leaks. But many leaks, seemingly of any magnitude, have gone unreported or ignored in Jackson due to the city's severe leak problems, outdated systems, and overwhelming persistent staffing issues.

Jackson has two water treatment facilities, one established in 1914 and the other in the late 1980s. There are water lines under the city that may be over a century old, and nobody can predict when or where a pipe or piece of equipment would break down. Jackson's outdated infrastructure and the most recent freezes might have made the current leaks worse.

As residents suffered weeks without water in March 2021, the system was in danger of shutting down completely. A new O.B. Curtis crisis occurred in August 2022, when Mississippi announced a state of emergency for the state's capital because the water was once more judged dangerous to drink.

Henifin, a retired manager for a 1.8 million-person wastewater firm based in Virginia who has worked in public service for 40 years, was collaborating with a large NGO on a "limited, part-time basis" to solve water justice in Jackson. He was conducting business from his Virginia home one day per week in July. By November, he had been hired by the Justice Department to oversee the federal takeover of the water system and was living there on a part-time basis. In January, he moved into the state formally.

Since then, he has discussed the development of a sustainable water system with state and local officials. But, he is looking for solutions in a state where white state leaders and Black city leaders frequently argue over what is and is not in Jackson's best interests.

On March 21, construction crews began making repairs that are expected to take a couple of weeks to complete. According to Hillman, residents should only experience temporary drops in water pressure during which the water will still be safe to drink.

When Oscar McKenzie spotted workers attending to the leak, he thought they were there to address a different water problem. He told the NYT that a few years ago, a water main ruptured, leading to the flooding of the neighborhood.

Mckenzie doesn't drink the tap water like so many other people in Jackson do. He is concerned about what it might do to his four kids. He told the NYT that when showering, the water itches their backs.

Emmetta Jones, who lives a few homes away, walks her kid to the school bus stop on a regular basis and passes by the new barricades on the way. She claimed that although her water pressure is constant, brown water sporadically leaks from her tap.

She refrains from drinking the water, just like her neighbor. She hasn't in a long time.

This story was originally published by the New York Times.

Related News

From Archive


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}