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The reason why Mississippi's water crisis won't happen in Jacksonville

More than 100,000 people in Jackson, MS don't have clean water after the city's treatment plant went offline. JEA says it has systems in place to guard against that.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It's like living in a nightmare. After being under a boil water advisory for a month, flood waters knocked the water treatment plant in Jackson, Mississippi offline. For a 4th straight day nearly 150,000 people do not have access to water. So, could that happen in Jacksonville, Florida?

JEA gave First Coast News a tour of its main water treatment facility to show the measures that it has in place to keep the water safe in Jacksonville.

"We have 38 water plants," said Bryan Wagoner, JEA's Director of Water Operations & Treatment Support Service, "this one operates all 38 of them at the same time."

All of JEA's 38 water treatment facilities are monitored and controlled by a system of computers in one central hub at one of its treatment facilities. That means that JEA can identify a water main break anywhere in its system before one of its 380,000 customers notice that their water pressure has changed.

The fundamental difference between JEA and the Jackson, MS water crisis is that JEA has 38 separate water treatment facilities compared to one main facility for Jackson. Furthermore, JEA has 140 wells that pump water from the Florida Aquifer nearly 700 feet below ground level, which means the water supply is pristine and not impacted by extreme weather conditions. 

Similar to its 38 water treatment facilities, all of JEA's wells are interconnected on a grid pattern throughout the city. So if one area fails or needs maintenance, other facilities or wells provide water to that area to prevent service from being interrupted.  

"We plan for everything," said Raynetta Curry Marshall, JEA's Chief Operating Officer, "so I wouldn't say that we're not worried about it, we planned for that because climate change is happening. So for the long term we want to make sure that we're supplying for our customers, so we want to make sure that we're reliable and that we're resilient."

"We were intentional in making sure that everything is interconnected," said Hai Vu, JEA's VP of Water & Wastewater Systems, "and we continue to make sure every single day we work on upgrading distribution systems."

JEA invested in its system to increase capacity, upgrade the system and adhere to state and federal guidelines. It also evaluated vulnerabilities to multiple flood mechanisms including rainfall, extreme tides, storm surge and sea level rise. That led JEA to create new design standards, which considered future flood scenarios, that will minimize system interruptions and overflows.

The facility that First Coast News toured not only brings water from the Florida Aquifer, but it also treats it with chemicals and distributes it to the public. And while all 38 facilities can be controlled from one specific location, there are other back up plans in place.

"If we lose communication with the room or lose the ability to control the plants, all the plants have their own control system that's automated so that plant will maintain pressure and step up pumps to meet customer demand," said Wagoner.

In 2020 JEA completed a resiliency study to identify how to minimize wastewater system outages and designed new standards for flood scenarios. Those standards include elevating assets and facilities where practical, hardening facilities with watertight sealing of windows, vents and barriers.

JEA says that it has also implemented a redundant power supply in critical infrastructure that includes dual-feed, underground lines and backup generators. Each water treatment facility also has portable generators to power pumps and lift stations. 

If you would like to contact JEA you can call them at 904-665-600 (residential) or 904-665-6250 (commercial).

RELATED: Will JEA commit to using more renewable energy? CEO Jay Stowe answers questions

RELATED: Videos: Heavy rain brings flooding to some areas of Jacksonville


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