JACKSON, Miss -- Local officials in Mississippi's capital city, where a late summer water crisis upended life for 150,00 people, have approved an emergency plan to increase staffing at the city's two water treatment plants.
Jackson city council members voted Thursday to hire contract workers from a Los Angeles-based company to staff the O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell water treatment plants, tanks and well facilities. Under the agreement, WaterTalent LLC will provide the city with four skilled water operators to help beef up paltry staffing at the two treatment facilities.
Jackson currently has two operators licensed at the Class A level, who have a degree of technical expertise that can take years to acquire. City leaders said that the two operators have been working more than 80 hours a week to produce clean water at the plants.
“We’re still relying on the same operators who are working long, long, long hours and long shifts,” said Ted Henifin, a consultant working with the city council. “So, we identified this company, and they recruit these folks and have them on standby, essentially licensed operators, that are willing to deploy for some emergency periods, and we’ve gotten a proposal from them.”
The workers will be paid around $40 per hour. The agreement will be in place until the city hires a long-term contractor, WLBT-TV reported. The new operators will report to Jackson on Sunday, November 13.
Jackson’s water system has been beset by problems for decades, but the latest troubles began in late August after heavy rainfall exacerbated problems at the O.B. Curtis plant, leaving many customers without running water. State and federal officials surged resources to the area after emergency orders were declared by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and President Joe Biden.
Reeves said the state of emergency he declared on Aug. 30 would remain in place until Nov. 22. City officials are attempting to reach an agreement with a private firm to operate Jackson’s water system over the long term. Until then, extra staffing will ease the burden on city workers, local officials said.
“The big piece of this is it also allows (operators) not to have to work 70 to 80 hours a week,” Henifin said. “They’re actually going to get some of their life back, which I think they would all like at this point in time.”