Residents of Jackson City, Mississippi’s capital city, had no running water since 29 August 2022, when heavy rains and floods caused a significant failure at its main water treatment plant, OB Curtis.
Since late July, Jackson’s 150,000 residents have been put under a boil-water advisory to prevent bacterial infections.
The direct cause of Jackson’s problem was the flooding from a Pear River swollen by days of heavy rain, which affected the city’s water treatment plant.
Almost a week after its water treatment plant nearly collapsed, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell, told CNN that it is still too soon for Jackson’s residents to have safe and running drinking water again (Sarisohn & Yan, 2022).
Criswell said that at the moment, they are just providing temporary measures to increase water pressure so people can at least flush their toilets and use their taps.
Residents have resorted to bottled water as the stocks are running out in local groceries.
However, the city’s water system has been falling for years, and even when water flows from the taps, residents struggle with intermittent boil-water advisories. In 2021, a harsh winter storm knocked the system out for a month (Felton, 2022).
Poor infrastructure is caused by decades of deferred maintenance, white flight, and high poverty levels.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba says that Jackson’s water system is beleaguered by short staffing and “decades of deferred maintenance.” He said the influx of water from torrential rain changed the chemical composition needed for treatment, which slowed the process of pushing water out to customers.
“Like many cities, Jackson faces water system problems it cannot afford to fix. Its tax base has eroded the past few decades as the population decreased — the result of mostly white flight to suburbs that began after public schools were integrated in 1970. The city’s population is now more than 80% Black, with about 25% of its residents living in poverty” (Pettus & Goldbert, 2022).
Klasing (2022) says that the water treatment plant failure is a human rights failure that is decades in the making and stems from the “historical and racist disinvestment in the majority-Black city”.
“Black and brown people are expected to be the hardest hit by the current crisis as they live in low-income areas plagued with poor water infrastructure and insufficient funding”.
Klasing’s article calls upon the federal and state governments to “swiftly allocate resources to address the immediate needs in Jackson and invest in long-term solutions.”
Fixing the city’s wastewater treatment plant
A week before the water treatment failed, Mayor Lumumba said that fixing Jackson’s water systems could cost $200 million. On 30 August, after the city’s facility collapsed, he said the cost could reach up to billions of dollars.
Harris and Silva (2022) mention that the state is set to receive $429 million from the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act to repair its wastewater system in the next five years through loans and grants from the Environmental Protection Agency. However, as the city is in a state of emergency, it could face long waiting times before receiving these funds, or at least mid to late 2023, according to one of the agencies moving the federal money.
However, even if Jackson City receives the total funding slated for the state, it is still not enough, says Mayor Lumumba.
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Sarisohn, H. & Yan, H. (2022, September 4). Water pressure restored in Jackson, Mississippi, governor and city officials say. CNN. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2022/09/04/us/jackson-mississippi-water-crisis-sunday/index.html
Felton, E. (2022, 3 September). Living in a city with no water: ‘This is unbearable’. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/09/03/jackson-mississippi-water-crisis/
Pettus, E. & Goldberg, M. (2022 September 1). Mississippi capital: Water everywhere, not a drop to drink. AP News. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/floods-mississippi-tate-reeves-jackson-climate-and-environment-3cc65dd4bdc83e8c48a7aeee8b76bd8d
Klasing, A. (2022, 2 September). Mississippi Water Crisis a Failure Decades in the Making. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/09/02/mississippi-water-crisis-failure-decades-making
Harris, B. & Silva, D. (2022, September 3). Jackson’s water system may need billions in repairs. Federal infrastructure funds aren’t a quick fix. NBC. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/jackson-mississippi-water-crisis-infrastructure-funding-rcna45444
PHOTO CREDIT: Visit Mississippi via Flickr Creative Commons License.