For weeks, firefighters across Jackson, Miss. have been distributing free bottled water to residents. Since July 29, the entire city has been under a boil water notice issued by the Mississippi Department of Health, citing high turbidity, or cloudiness, of water.
Jackson Fire Chief Willie G. Owens said he and his team of firefighters have been grateful to be able to help the people who drive through Fire Station 1 and for the donations from various vendors across the state. Owens manages the operation from the sidelines, ensuring that everyone who shows up leaves with water, even with a few extra cases for their neighbors if requested. Lines can block parts of Court St. during the peak of the day, but once distribution begins at 2 p.m.. Owens's team works together to keep the flow steady.
“We’ll call in other units to help out, and it gets the lines through really fast because there are a lot of people out here that need water,” Owens said. “They’ll line up starting at 12:30, and they’ll sit there for an hour and a half. We knock those lines down in about 20 or 30 minutes.”
Local departments attempted to distribute water from other stations, but in the end, Owens said working from one location was the most efficient solution.
Owens credits the bond firefighting crews have with one another for how quickly they provide water, with some tossing cases into cars and others refilling the stacks. It’s a workout, with temperatures still hovering in the 90s, but in the station, there are no complaints, only laughter and ‘Thank You’s,’ from drivers who pull through. ’
“I have firefighters, they don’t gripe, they don’t complain. They are so elated to be able to give these citizens water,” Owens said.
Jackson has been combating water issues for years.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has blamed the issue on decades of mismanagement of the city’s water system. Earlier this week, Lumumba met with local business owners to talk through their complaints about the back-to-back boil water notices.
Nearly 50 signed a letter detailing the impact the city’s water issues have had on their bottom lines. Frequent advisories mean additional operating costs for items such as bottled water, bags of ice and canned beverages.
Lumumba says there have been promising water test results and he hopes the notice could be lifted soon.
This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama, WWNO in New Orleans and NPR.