Jackson, Mississippi: A City Without Water

Janet Abrantes, Op-Ed Editor

In late August, citizens of Jackson, Mississippi’s most populous city and capital, faced an extreme water crisis. Revealing deep-rooted infrastructural problems, severe storms in the state caused the Pearl River to flood. The disaster consequently flooded the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, the city’s largest water treatment facility. Since the plant was already running on backup pumps due to failures in prior months, the drinking water supply faltered, and residents found themselves in the midst of a water shortage.

This latest water shortage highlights the long-standing issues with Jackson’s infrastructure, such as old facilities that haven’t been renovated in decades. In 2021, a winter storm caused the water system to shut down for a month. Recently, residents of Jackson have been dealing with “boil water” advisories and high water bills. Tap water turns brown in many poorer areas of the city, but some residents are still forced to drink it since it’s their only viable option (NPR).

“This is unbearable,” said resident Veronica Jackson (per The Washington Post). “We’re paying $2 a gallon for water, and that’s if you can even find it.” Jackson is a Democrat-led city with a 79 percent Black population according to the 2020 census. Although citizens have requested funding for infrastructural development from the largely Republican state government, residents have seen little coming out of these requests in proportion to the severity of the issue. Some liberal political commentators and residents point to Jackson’s crisis as part of the larger phenomenon known as environmental racism, noting that other cities with water crises were also majority Black, such as Flint, Michigan with a 56 percent Black population. 

“It really is just government mismanagement and a lack of caring about what happens in the inner-city community,” said Kwame Braxton, a Jackson resident (per The Washington Post). “You go to these different communities outside of Jackson and you can see the difference; they will put funding towards fixing their infrastructure over there.”

To alleviate the crisis, Governor Tate Reeves issued 600 Mississippi National Guard troops to seven water distribution sites across the state capital. President Joe Biden also declared the city a disaster area, granting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approval to send resources to Jackson. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an allocation of $74.9 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to Mississippi for water infrastructure improvements late last year.

Although the crisis may only seem to affect Jackson, for now, a 2020 study by the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the federal government needs to invest $2.2 trillion over the next two decades to address infrastructure shortfalls across the country. With the threat that the current climate crisis poses, infrastructure may also need to be updated to withstand harsh weather conditions.

“If we don’t talk […] about what happened in Jackson and climate change, we’re going to be doomed,” Danyelle Holmes, volunteer for the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition, said (per The Root). “We can’t avoid the conversation any longer about the impact that climate change is having on poor communities in the United States.”