Warmer weather a relief but could still spell trouble for city’s water system

As warmer temperatures return, Jackson will begin to recover from consecutive days of winter weather that iced over roads, put a strain on city infrastructure and kept residents sheltered inside. 

The winter storms crippled the city’s water system and left residents and businesses without water or with low water pressure. The storms also depleted the city’s water supply, as chemicals used for treatment were unable to be shipped in combined with a surge in water usage caused by residents staying home.

Outdated water pipes in Jackson are likely to take another hit as the ground expands with warmer temperatures and puts pressure on the underground lines.

Jackson police officer Davie Coleman prepares to load bottled water onto a truck as water is distributed outside of the Jackson Police Training Academy in Jackson, Miss., Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Jackson metro area residents have been experiencing water and power outages due to this week's winter storms.

The warm weather also brings the potential threat of flooding as ice and snow melt, a Hinds County official said. 

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Jackson: A history of cold weather problems

After temperatures dipped into the teens twice during a two-week span in 2018, crews battled more than 200 water main breaks, which shut down the distribution of water for days. It cost $750,000 to fix the already cash-strapped city and also prevented area businesses — restaurants, in particular — from operating. 

Winter weather 2018:Cold snap wreaks havoc on Jackson infrastructure

If that happens again, the breaks will prevent water from being processed back into the system and could lead to the same water pressure issues the city is experiencing this week. 

Two Hemphill Construction workers work to loosen a water valve on Quail Run Road in northeast Jackson following a cold weather snap in January 2018. The City of Jackson contracted with Hemphill to help the city overcome damage caused by unusually cold weather

It’s one reason why city officials at a news conference Thursday seemed reluctant to give residents a definitive timeline for getting the system up to speed. 

“I owe you honesty. I owe you truth,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said. “We do not have a definitive timeline on water restoration.”

Public Works Director Charles Williams hinted Friday that water service restoration could come this weekend, but did not take a firm stand on a date. He said 13 water breaks have been reported across the city so far and more are expected as the ice thaws. 

City Council President Aaron Banks urged the city to take a proactive approach to possible pipe breaks. 

“Since it is very possible we’ll see more burst pipes, I think we need to have the approach of expecting it to happen,” Banks said. “That way, we can have work crews on standby to respond to those areas that have had issues in the past.” 

Few long-term solutions 

 The estimated cost for fixing its water and sewer pipes, and making substantial upgrades to its processing and distribution plants, is estimated by Lumumba to be in the billions. Many of the city’s pipes are nearly a hundred years old and it would take a major investment and years of work to replace them. 

Unfortunately, city finances prevent any long-term fixes, meaning only the worst infrastructure issues can be addressed in the short-term. 

Live weather updates:Mississippi power outages persist despite warming temperatures 

And it’s certain Jackson will see more freezing temperatures in the years to come. 

These few packages of bottle water are all that remain of several hundred that were distributed to residents, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Jackson, Miss. The city is giving the bottled water to residents as much of the municipality is without water due to problems with the water treatment plant. Several locations were supplied with water in order to better reach residents. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Hinds County eyeing possible flooding

Hinds County officials are monitoring the rise of water levels on the Pearl and Big Black rivers as the ice begins to melt. 

Emergency Management Director Joey Perkins said the Pearl River is currently below the 28-foot flood threshold, the level where the river is at risk for flooding. He advised residents to be prepared and keep an eye out for messages from the department on its website and social media.

The agency will also continue to assist the city of Jackson and other parts of Hinds County with water distribution as water shortages persist, Perkins said.

“We try to assist and coordinate with getting critical infrastructures back on line, you know, of course power, water, doing what we can to restore that,” Perkins said. “Public Works departments are clearing the roads of trees or debris, and just getting things back to normal.”

Status across the state  

Meanwhile, spokesman Jas N Smith with the Mississippi Department of Transportation said crews are taking measures to remove ice and snow from state roadways. As the weather warms up, crews will transition to maintenance measures.

“For the next couple of days, once it’s melted, then our crews are going to switch over to kind of a maintenance posture as we’re watching potholes form,” Smith said. 

It’s currently unclear how many potholes the department expects to see from the melting of ice on roads or how much it will cost. Smith said the more than 100 crews who are out across the state will transition to repairing the roadways to ensure safe travel.

Contact Justin Vicory at 769-572-1418 or jvicory@gannett.com. Follow @justinvicory on Twitter.