While city of Jackson officials gave a tour for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s top administrator, the water treatment plant he toured was under emergency repairs that forced a boil water notice.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited Jackson on November 15.
On November 13, according to an email sent two days later to the Mississippi Department of Health’s Bureau of Public Water Supply that part of the water treatment process at the O.B. Curtis was taken off-line due to a bad batch of aluminum chlorohydrate, the primary treatment chemical used in conventional water treatment.
The city informed the MSDH at 8:02 a.m. on November 15, just hours before Regan arrived at the plant.
The bad batch of ACH, according to emails from city officials to the MSDH, clogged the feed line into the treatment basins and force them to be shut down.
Curtis has two treatment methods: Membrane filters and conventional filters. The ACH is used on the conventional treatment side and the city was forced to clean both the filters and treatment trains before bringing them back online.
The much older J.H. Fewell plant was able to take up some of the slack, but the city was forced to issue a boil water notice at 7:52 p.m. on November 15 because city-wide pressure dropped from 90 pounds per square inch to below 65 Psi.
Operators were forced to clean out both the treatment basins and filters before they could return to water treatment.
At 4:39 p.m. on November 16, city engineer Charles Williams Jr. told the MSDH via mail that there was a positive response that morning from the conventional treatment process after cleaning of both the basins and filters had commenced.
An email update sent at 10:40 p.m. on November 16 by Mary Carter, the city’s deputy director of Public Works Water Operations, said that two of the three treatment basins had been restored to operation and four of the six filters were back online.
Carter also said that the main ACH feed line, which was clogged by the bad batch of ACH, was the backup line that had been in use for six or seven years. The city says it’ll be replacing the main feed line for redundancy’s sake if the line clogs in the future.
This isn’t the first time that the city has had problems with the Curtis plant.
On April 30, a fire at the Curtis Plant forced a city-wide boil water notice to be issued and that wasn’t lifted until May 3.
A February 2020 inspection by EPA and state Department of Health officials found serious discrepancies with federal clean drinking water mandates including malfunctioning or non-operational equipment and not enough trained operators and other treatment personnel. After the inspection, the EPA followed with an order to the city on March 27, 2020, which mandates that the city make changes to its water system.
The water system also battled a February ice storm that shut down water service to much of the city, a scenario predicted by a 2019 inspection report by the MSDH.
The price tag for the city to become compliant with the EPA’s administrative compliance order on consent, will be $170 million, with $70 million to be spent performing upgrades to the city’s two water treatment plants. The remaining $100 million will be spent fixing the city’s dilapidated distribution system, which is subject to constant breaks and of which the EPA’s inspection said might be losing 40 percent to 50 percent of its water.