Jackson, MS

What We Know About the Jackson, MS Water Crisis

Luke Fitzpatrick

Life in Jackson, Mississippi, is already significantly impacted by a crumbling water infrastructure in desperate need of repair; now, historic rainfall has completely cut all residents off from clean water supplies. Recent heavy rainfalls and subsequent flooding have overwhelmed the already fragile system,

Inundating the city’s Pearl River, swelling it far beyond flood levels, with water spilling over into the streets and the primary water treatment facility buckling under the strain. Failing pumps only added to the crisis, leaving 150,000 residents without clean drinking water.

Before being inundated with the heavy rains, Jackson locals were already under a boil water notice - common conditions for residents of the Mississippi capital. There were reportedly 225 boil water notice days in 2021 alone — it’s no secret that Jackson’s water infrastructure desperately needs funding and maintenance.

State of emergency declared

Late Tuesday, President Biden signed off on an emergency declaration for Jackson, allowing additional federal resources to be deployed in support of the state and local officials tasked with managing the disaster and relief efforts. The White House has also confirmed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has deployed personnel to assist emergency operations in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition - a collective force of over 30 organizations state-wide — has hit the ground running with a damning statement regarding the underfunded state of the Jackson water infrastructure and a $2m donation target to aid the relief efforts.

In the statement, the Coalition outlined residents in older cities such as Jackson have been unfairly exposed to avoidable health risks after many decades of neglect by the state. In addition, they have stated that the extent to which the boil water requirements impact daily living and the regional economy is putting ever more strain on an already underfunded city.

Support from far and wide

Jackson residents can glean some hope that help is arriving in its droves, with towns, cities, states, and many organizations sending help from far and wide. Distribution centers have been set up to get this vital water to residents, as volunteers arrange deliveries of donated drinking water to any who cannot access the distribution centers.

Assistance from the City of Houston is one such example; with so many donations being collected from a wide range of businesses, churches, and nonprofits, Houston has sent one 18-wheeler truckload of water to Jackson, with more on its way in the coming days.

Amazon has pledged 326,000 bottles of water in relief donations to Jackson residents, and many other businesses are also doing their part. Eco-friendly company JUST Water is also sending in 20 pallets of clean mountain spring water from its depot in New York to Operation Good. The company's CEO, Will Holsworth, commented that being in a ‘unique and qualified position to help’ made it impossible to look the other way - a sentiment many share.

What caused the Jackson water crisis?

The particularly poor state of Jackson’s water infrastructure certainly created a significant scaling up to the damage caused by the recent weather events. Nevertheless, it was ultimately brought about by torrential and historic rainfall, and sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident.

A recent report by the Washington Post outlined that five 1,000-year rain events have occurred across the U.S. in as many weeks. Regions such as St. Louis and Dallas may have escaped with clean drinking water supply intact, but flooding has still devastated these areas. As the global climate change crisis continues, it appears that such unprecedented weather patterns and statistics will inevitably continue until we adopt significant changes to the way we live.

For Jackson residents, the majority of whom are black, dealing with poor water quality is nothing new - the region's neglected water systems have been increasingly failing for decades. Old systems in disrepair carry water far more vulnerable to contaminants (such as from soil and other chemical toxins). When flood waters overwhelm a system already struggling, this danger increases significantly, which is why Jackson is now in its position.

While many communities across the U.S. are inevitably vulnerable to similar circumstances depending on the severity of a weather event, many agree that the state of Jackson’s water infrastructure is equivalent to environmental racism.

Andre Perry, of D.C., think tank, Brookings Institution, has stated that the Jackson water crisis is decades in the making during a talk with CNN, commenting on its ‘aging infrastructure and other disinvestments in majority-black cities.’

Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Mayor of Jackson, said in a news conference on Tuesday that it was never a matter of if Jackson’s system would fail but when it would happen. For information regarding the Jackson relief efforts and how you can help, click here.

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Academic Speaker | Freelance Journalist | I have contributed to a variety of publications such as Forbes, Tech In Asia, and The Next Web. I cover a variety of topics ranging from fintech, big data, AI, blockchain, to lifestyle and breaking news stories.

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