Jackson Water Manager Ted Henifin chastised the Mississippi State Department of Health for issuing a boil water notice based on a January 11 “false positive” test result. The health department claimed that evidence of the potentially toxic E. coli bacteria was present in two of the 120 samples it had received from the Jackson water system. Two samples from the separate Flowood water district showed the same results.
Henifin said MSDH had issued the order without confirming that the two samples it had tested were accurate. Six follow-up samples showed there was no E. coli present and the boil notice was rescinded on January 12. The boil water notice for Flowood was lifted January 13.
The initial announcement of a possible E. coli contamination sent shivers up the spines of many of Jackson’s over 188,000 water customers, given the city’s past history of serious water problems that caused the system to collapse in August 2022. Henifin is the federally appointed third party manager of Jackson’s water system, JXN Water, with the mandate to put the system back on the right track.
“I do not understand why the Mississippi Department of Health issued the city-wide boil water notice before confirming the initial results,” Henifin said. “The damage to confidence in our water system and economic impact to our area businesses is enormous.”
Confirmation is an integral part of the process established by the EPA, Henifin said, “to ensure there were no sampling or analysis errors before taking action that can needlessly scare consumers and create significant impact to water related businesses in the service area.”
The state laboratory notified JXN Water that all six of the new samples were negative, meaning no E. coli was present.
Henifin said the health department should have gotten a confirmation on the E. coli positives before issuing the boil water notice.
“Having positive results from any system, Jackson’s in particular, or any throughout the state, is fairly unusual. Having two positives from two different water systems on the same day, analyzed at the same time, seems highly suspect,” Henifin said.
“I’m not saying it was human error,” he said Friday. “I don’t know what the issue was. But there are lots of reasons you would get a false positive in that analysis. With the announcement, there has been a negative impact on local business. Starbucks are all closed, most restaurants that serve fountain drinks can’t do so. And some businesses are just deciding not to open because of that.”
Hunkering down, MSDH stood by its initial decision to issue the cautionary boil water notice.
“In spite of the allegations made by the City of Jackson Water Supply, the Mississippi State Department of Health stands behind the initial test results that indicated the presence of E. coli in the City of Jackson’s surface water,” a statement by State Health Officer Dr. Dan Edney read. “Upon review, all evidence supports that these test results were true positives. Since 2003, there have been 29 instances of E. coli detected in the City of Jackson’s water system. During the same time period, the City of Flowood has had three instances of E. coli in their water system.”
Nevertheless, the boil water notice on January 11 was lifted the following day, Friday, January 12.
Prior to this, the last citywide boil water notice for Jackson was issued in December 2022.
Anticipating freezing temperatures at unusual lows during the entire week beginning Monday, both the Jackson mayor’s office and the governor’s office issued State-of-Emergencies that included warnings of hazardous street and bridge conditions and recommended that residents stay at home. The City of Jackson is continuing to warn residents to be properly prepared for the freezing temperatures the capital city is expected to face this week.
During a Sunday afternoon press conference, Lumumba stood with Michael Hill of the National Weather Service for a preview of “dangerously cold” weather conditions. Beginning Monday, rain and sleet were forecast as major problems, lasting through Wednesday afternoon. Hill said the streets will be covered by about a tenth-of-an inch of ice. Wind chill factors were expected to go as low as minus-5 degrees in the evening. Lumumba urged residents to stay home during the holiday.
Also accompanying Lumumba were Sheriff Tyree Jones, JPD Chief Joseph Wade, and Public Works Director Robert Lee. Lee cautioned that safety should be everyone’s first consideration and especially urged people to avoid driving up or down hills. The mayor announced a county-wide non-emergency phone number: (601) 252-1521.
Gov. Tate Reeves also declared a state of emergency in advance of the winter storm. Interstate 55 has already seen a glazing of ice with several accidents reported near Batesville.
The governor’s state of emergency encouraged all Mississippians in the impacted areas to take precautions. “Prepare your homes now for below-freezing temperatures, bring pets inside, and check in with your loved ones who are most susceptible during this frigid weather.”
Jackson’s water system and intensive freezing rain and cold have proven to be a dangerous combination for Jackson residents over the last few years. In March 2021, for example, the city went without clean drinking water for two weeks. Snow and ice covered the entire landscape. And water in the Ross Barnett Reservoir stood at only five degrees above freezing.
Because of the record lows, the pipes and machinery inside the O.B. Curtis water processing plant froze up. The condition lasted for five days, but then a second storm followed and the city found itself immobilized like never before. The water plant operations team had to rebuild the pressure at the plant in order to push water into the system.
This will be the first full year that the operation of the water system has run full cycle under the Interim Third Party Manager with all the necessary contractors on the job.
Memories of a city-wide shutdown in March of 2021 due to the freezing up of the city’s two water processing plants remain fresh in the minds of an administration and a public that witnessed an extended decline and final fall of its water system in August 2022.
JXN WATER ADVISORY FOR COLD WEATHER PROTECTION
• Let a mix of cold and warm water drip from your faucets. A slow, steady stream the width of a spaghetti noodle of water keeps water moving through the pipes and prevents them from freezing during very cold temperatures.
• Wrap up pipes that are close to exterior walls, near windows or in unheated basements with pieces of insulation. Any pipe that is vulnerable or has caused problems in the past should be wrapped up. You can also consult a plumbing professional about the use of heat tape, which when used properly, can help with problematic pipes.
• Keep your thermostat above 55 degrees, especially when leaving your home.
• Keep cabinet doors open that lead to exposed pipes, such as near sinks and access doors so the household air can flow through and warm them.
*JXN Water is not accountable for damages due to weather.