It could be 2022 before the city of Jackson can correct all of the issues with its water treatment plants found in an inspection last year.
The Mississippi Department of Health’s Bureau of Water Supply referred the city to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after an inspection on February 3, 2020 of the city’s two water treatment plants. After the inspection, the EPA followed with an order to the city on March 27, 2020, which says it is a final agency action and commands the city to make changes to its water system.
The order said that conditions in the Jackson system represented “an imminent and substantial endangerment to the persons served by the system.” Jackson is served by two water treatment plants: OB Curtis located on the Ross Barnett Reservoir and JH Fewell located on the Pearl River near Interstate 55.
The February 3, 2020 inspection conducted by the Mississippi Department of Health and the EPA office found numerous discrepancies in both water treatment plants, including turbidity (the measure of the degree in which water loses transparency because of dissolved solids), disinfection concerns with ultraviolet lights and disinfectant chemical storage and the condition of the distribution system, which is plagued by numerous leaks and breaks.
On April 30, there was an electrical fire at the OB Curtis plant that shut down one of the plant's pumps and caused the issuance of a boil water notice citywide.
One of the problems found by inspectors was with the membranes used to separate molecules during the treatment process. City engineer and director of the Public Works Department Charles Williams Jr. told the Northside Sun that city contractor Suez Water Technologies and Solutions will replace the membrane fibers on the No. 1 train. The city has advertised bids for repairs on the No. 5 membrane train. The plan, according to Williams, is to have both in operation by December 1.
The city was also docked for the inoperable state of its Clari-Trac system at both treatment plants, which removes solids from the water deposited by sedimentation. Williams said the Clari-Trac system has been repaired and is back in operation at JH Fewell, but that the one at OB Curtis is ongoing with no definitive timeline for completion.
The inspection said this system had been inoperable since 2017. The Department of Health told the city that using drainage basins to handle the resultant sludge buildup increased the chance of treatment process issues and was wasteful for treatment chemicals.
Another problem is with the intake from the Ross Barnett Reservoir that feeds into OB Curtis. The report said the intake building is in failing condition with holes in the roof and a vital feed system was inoperable. The holes in the roof are visible to motorists driving across Spillway Road.
The city told the Department of Health that the building would be repaired by August, but Williams said repairs will take until June 30, 2022.
According to the inspection report, the city of Jackson’s crews are repairing five or six water line breaks per day, requiring the city to issue boil water notices. From 2016 to February 2020, the city had issued more than 750 boil water notices and the master plan for pipe replacement issued by the city in 2013 isn’t being implemented and maintenance log records aren’t being kept for line repairs.
The city told inspectors that the water loss rate in the distribution system is 40 to 50 percent, necessitating three Jackson-based hospitals — University of Mississippi Medical Center, Baptist Hospital and St. Dominic’s — to drill their own wells.