Crews looking for ‘smoking gun’ causing drop in Jackson’s water pressure

Published: Dec. 27, 2022 at 12:04 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson will be enlisting the help of the Mississippi State Department of Health to find what they believe is the “smoking gun” leading to the city’s latest water crisis.

Days into the emergency, crews have repaired numerous leaks, but are still experiencing severe water losses and low water pressure, a sign that a major leaks or leaks still exist in the distribution system.

“We did find a fire hydrant this morning that was broken. We can’t get it shut and it’s on a main line, so that holds some promise,” said Ted Henifin, interim third-party manager over Jackson’s water system. “We’re bringing in a contractor to work on that.”

“The things we’ve found so far, that’s about it,” he added. “We still haven’t found the big, leaking smoking gun we’re looking for.”

The hydrant is located at Poplar Boulevard and Olive Street.

Crews also had completed repairs of a main break at an abandoned bridge next to South State Street and “made some changes to valving near Curtis that seems to just have had a positive impact,” he said. “They were right there on the plant site. And we’ve tried to throttle back the flow that was going toward Fewell from Curits on the 54-inch line that was built several years ago to connect the two.”

“We’re not sure we actually did what we were trying to accomplish, but we did see the pressures come back up a little bit in the system,” he continued. “Overall, we think a few more people might have water today... Not everybody, we’re not at that point pressure-wise, [but] those that had low pressure yesterday might see a slightly better pressure today.”

Pressure Tuesday morning was hovering between 52 and 55 pounds per square inch. PSI needs to be in the 80s to ensure that all customers in the city have adequate running water.

On Monday, the city said in a release it was “producing significant amounts of water” at the plants, but pressure was not increasing and that “the issue has to be significant leaks in the system that we have yet to identify.”

However, Henifin says the city has received relatively few reports of main breaks through its 3-1-1 hotline. Crews also have found few leaks during inspections across the city.

“Whatever we’re searching for seems to be draining into a body of water or into the storm sewer system or someplace where no one is seeing it,” he said. “I think it might just be a few bigger [breaks] that are causing that problem, and we just haven’t found them.”

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba reiterated Henifin’s point at a Tuesday press conference. “Some can be hiding in the woods, they may be hiding in places where there is water already and difficult to identify,” he said. “We’re calling on residents to call in if you see a leak.”

Ted Henifin speaks with WLBT during a previous interview.
Ted Henifin speaks with WLBT during a previous interview.(WLBT)

Henifin, who was put in charge of Jackson water as part of a federal court order, lined up five crews with Utility Constructors ahead of the water crisis to repair leaks as they popped up. Two city crews also have been looking for breaks.

Monday afternoon, crews were spotted repairing a burst pipe at an abandoned bridge on South State Street. Work there was completed sometime that afternoon.

“We’ve talked to the health department. I think they’ve lined up some thermal-imaging drones. We thought we’d get those flying at some point today,” he said. “I think it’s going to be in the evening. They said it’s better, actually, for thermal imaging to do that.”

“Another idea we’ve put out there is we’ve got some other resources coming from a company that we’ve lined up to do some valve and leak detection work that was going to start in January. They’re going to try to get us two crews by the end of the week.”

EPA also has representatives in the city who are helping look for leaks.

The crisis comes about after an arctic front brought in more than two days of sub-freezing temperatures, resulting in some main breaks across the city.

However, the front was less severe than forecasted, with the National Weather Service saying the temperatures would be in the lower teens during most of the period.

“We actually got off a little easier this weekend because the temperature came up above freezing during the day, Christmas Day and the day after, so unexpectedly. And the original forecast was that it would stay below freezing,” he said. “Everything wasn’t frozen solid for an extended period of time.”

“Wherever we find this issue, it must have been pretty susceptible to a shorter, harder freeze and there may be some other weaknesses of that particular infrastructure that just put it over the edge.”

Henifin wasn’t sure how many main breaks had been reported but said crews had been out repairing smaller leaks, including one reported by WLBT.

That break appeared to have happened on Christmas Day, on an above-ground line at an abandoned bridge along South State Street.

“It turned out to not be a huge leak and looked worse than it was. It was a pretty small amount of water going out, but it was very photogenic,” he said. “And those are the kinds of things that we’re finding.”

Henifin said recovery efforts would have been aided had Jackson had a way to track leaks, as well as updated information on where turnoff valves are located throughout the distribution system.

“That’s something I’ll be putting in as the ITPM,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re working with what we’ve got, and a lot of it is paper-based at this point.”

To report a leak, contact 311 or call (601) 960-1111 or (601) 960-1875.

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