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Outdated water pipes in Jackson are likely to take another hit as the ground expands with warmer temperatures and puts pressure on the underground lines.
The warm weather also brings the potential threat of flooding as ice and snow melt, a Hinds County official said.
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.
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.
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.