The 45-day-long boil water notice in Jackson ended Thursday, and while the announcement from Gov. Tate Reeves was celebratory, it also came with a level of tension between the city and state governments that have surfaced multiple times throughout the water crisis.
Per Mississippi State Department of Health regulations, the boil-water notice ended after two consecutive days of clean test results from 120 sampling sites across the city.
Reeves said that system-wide testing began Tuesday, but daily updates from the city on Tuesday and Wednesday indicated that testing was still in its investigative phase and that system-wide sampling had not yet begun.
“Investigative sampling continues in expanded capacity today to monitor water quality,” city spokesperson Justin Vicory said in the city’s daily update Wednesday. “We will continue to evaluate when full sampling can begin. This is contingent upon sustained pressure. We will need two rounds of clear samples to be able to remove the boil water notice.”
Reeves said he did not know why the city’s reports did not reflect ongoing system-wide testing.
“I don’t read the city’s daily reports, and I don’t think you should, either,” Reeves said.
The governor instead recommended residents read reports posted daily on the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency website. However, an announcement that system-wide sampling had begun Tuesday was not made there either, according to a review of those reports by the Clarion Ledger. Incident command briefs from both Tuesday and Wednesday only mentioned investigative sampling.
Despite no mention of system-wide testing having begun Tuesday in their daily reports, or in the state’s incident command briefs, Vicory said the governor “didn’t say anything we weren’t already aware of” during his announcement.
“We knew this morning that it was going to be lifted, but we didn’t say anything,” Vicory said. “It seemed like they wanted to kind of coordinate the message with the governor’s press conference.”
These tense moments, which came amid what state health department Director of Health Protection Jim Craig called “fabulous news,” were only the latest in a string of such interactions and statements during the water crisis.
Two weeks ago, just one day after they appeared together for the first time during the crisis, Reeves and Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba appeared separately after the mayor’s office had mistakenly announced a news conference where both would speak. That news conference never happened, and the governor’s communications director called the city’s announcement “misinformation.” Reeves and Lumumba have appeared together at a news conference one time since then, meaning they have appeared together twice since Reeves declared a state of emergency on Aug. 29. They have met and spoken a number of times privately in that span.
One consistent point of contention seems to be what role Jackson will play in the long-term solutions at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, which the city owns. At a community meeting Monday, Lumumba made clear that he opposes privatization, regionalization, and a state takeover of the city’s water system, each of which has been floated as possible steps forward. Reeves said again Thursday that “all options are on the table.” As to when the state might feel comfortable giving full control back to the city, Reeves said that day may never come.
“To the residents of Jackson, I would simply say, I don’t think it’s very likely that the city is going to operate the water system in the City of Jackson anytime soon, if ever,” Reeves said, adding that there is also the possibility of a federal Environmental Protection Agency takeover of the water system.
Whether or not the city has a plan is another source of conflict. During a Labor Day news conference, Reeves said the city does not have a long-term plan that the state can fund.
“We do recognize the need for both an intermediate and long-term plan. I personally believe that we cannot rely on the city of Jackson to provide that,” Reeves said at the time.
The next day, Lumumba presented a number of proposals that the city has sent along to the state government over the last few years. At the community meeting Monday, Lumumba said each of those plans costs the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if they are not sufficient to receive funding, he would like feedback so that those issues can be corrected.
“To you, it may just look like paper, right, but this is paper that costs a great deal of money,” Lumumba said. “And so, when we say we need a plan, when we say those things and we’re commissioning those, its very hurtful to us to be putting money, no pun intended, down the drain and not receiving money back in order to actually fix the things that we’re saying need to be fixed.”