‘Great Job’

By ANTHONY WARREN,

City successfully battles fallout from freezing weather

At press time, the capital city was bracing for another round of sub-freezing temperatures, which could again challenge the city’s worn out water mains.

The weather was forecasted to come earlier this week, only days after city crews and contractors repaired more than a hundred main breaks that resulted from the last arctic blast.

Last Friday (January 12), 11 days into a major water crisis that affected  every customer in Jackson, service had been restored, boil water notices had been lifted and more than 100 main breaks had been repaired.

City crews and private contractors braved the elements, working 12-hour shifts for more than a week to restore water after unusually cold weather wreaked havoc on the city’s system.

The breaks occurred as a result of an arctic blast that ripped across the city in late December and early January.

The blast brought with it sub-freezing temperatures, causing water mains to break.

Those main breaks, in turn, caused water pressure across the capital city to drop, forcing businesses and schools to temporarily close.

Jeff Good, co-owner of three Northside restaurants, said the city had done a yeoman’s job in responding to the crisis.

“It’s extraordinary. I’ve never seen such responsiveness and competence,” he said. “The team they’ve assembled has done a great job.”

Two of Good’s restaurants, Sal and Mookie’s Ice Cream and Pizza Joint and Broad Street Baking Co., were closed for four days each because of a lack of water pressure.

Both reopened on Sunday, January 7.

“The speed with which repairs are made ... I called in a repair on North State Street on Wednesday (January 10) and it was repaired Thursday morning,” he said. 

The Fondren Renaissance Foundation (FRF) provided meals for work crews on the evening of Saturday, January 6, after workers spent much of the day repairing breaks in the Fondren Business District.

Four breaks occurred in a three-block area: two at Fondren Place and two at Duling Place. After those repairs were made, another ruptured occurred, also at Fondren Place.

FRF Executive Director Jim Wilkirson was impressed with the city’s efforts to keep customers up to date about the crisis.

Between January 2 and January 11, the city issued more than a dozen press releases, as well as maps showing locations affected by boil water notices.

Jackson also opened its water emergency office the weekend of January 6 and 7 to allow customers to report breaks after hours.

“They’ve kept citizens and businesses abreast and have been very up front about how long (repairs would take),” he said. “This is not a problem they (the current administration) caused, but one they have to remedy (and) they have done an excellent job with the cards they’ve been dealt.” 

 

Lows dipped into the 20s on December 31, January 3 and January 6, and into the teens on January 1, 2, 4 and 5.

“A couple of arctic air masses dropped down from the plains to the Deep South, from the Canadian Yukon to the Deep South,” said Thomas Winesett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS).

The low on January 1 was 17, and the temperature plunged even lower to 14 degrees the next night. “That’s when you start to see a lot of pipes bursting,” he said.

Conditions caused ground and surface water temperatures to fall, wreaking havoc on the city’s aging water system.

 

The first signs of the crisis appeared on January 2.

That day, Jackson issued a news release asking residents to conserve water, because of losses of water pressure in some parts of the city.

That same day, Public Works Director Robert Miller issued a state of emergency, so the city could hire contractors to supplement city crews already making repairs.

By January 4, the entire city was placed under a precautionary boil water notice, and a day later, on January 5, public works officials confirmed 55 main breaks had been reported since the first of the year.

The breaks occurred along the city’s major distribution lines. Water pressure dropped as the elevated storage tanks were drained.

Pipe failures continued to mount, even in the face of repairs.

News releases from the city’s communications office provided daily updates.

On January 6, 94 main breaks had been confirmed. That number increased to 108 on January 7, 116 on January 8, 119 on January 9, and 129 on January 10.

By January 11, 139 bursts had been reported, according to the city.

Repairs were made in short order. In a January 5 news release, Director of Communications Kai Williams said three city crews and seven private contracting firms were working 12-hour shifts.

Shifts ran from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with no crews working into the night. “Safety issues increase and productivity falls in the dark,” Miller said.

Forty-six lines were patched by January 7, a number that increased to 51 on January 8 and 62 on January 9. By the morning of January 10, 71 repairs had been made, followed by 25 more by the January 11, with 18 additional repairs under way.

The remaining lines were supposed to be patched by the end of the work day on January 12, Miller said.

“We have to get our people rested this weekend, because we don’t know what the next round of weather is going to bring us,” he said Friday.

 

The crisis comes less than a year after Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba took office, and three months after Miller, his nominee for public works director, was confirmed.

“It’s 89 days today,” Miller said on January 12.

Prior to joining Jackson, Miller served as deputy director of the sewerage and water board in New Orleans and as vice president and treasurer of the Municipal and Financial Services in Louisville, Ky.

He said he’s seen crises like this “many times.”

“There is always the next emergency. Everything about dealing with emergencies is how prepared you are to go (into the emergency), how prepared you are to manage the emergency, and how prepared you are to exit,” he said. “And that’s where we are now.”

Miller said his department will put together a “lessons learned analysis.” He was expected to give his first post-crisis briefing to the city council on January 16.

“The key thing … is that we’ve got to learn from this so we do a better job next time,” Miller said. “I’m not persuaded the last emergencies we had have changed things substantially here.”

A similar crisis occurred in 2010, when several consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures led to 156 main breaks.

Said Miller, “I want to get in the continuous learning mode, so we change what we do and do better next time.”

 

 

 

 

 

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