Jackson, MS is Struggling With a Water Crisis, Who’s Paying Attention?

Steve Johnson/Pexels

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

While all eyes were on Texas last month, another part of the U.S. has been dealing with its own water crisis. Parts of Jackson, Mississippi have been without water for almost 3 weeks after cold weather swept through the region. Thousands of people, predominantly people of color, have been impacted by the shortage and are now on a boil water notice. The freezing weather is long gone, but water insecurity still looms for the city’s 170,000 residents.

Erik D. Olson, who currently directs the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s advocacy initiatives on health, food, and agriculture, says that the stark contrast between the federal responses to the Texas blackout and the Jackson water crisis offers a grim look into the inequality of the effects climate change.

Why This Matters: Low-income communities and communities of color across the country suffer from poor water service and quality at extremely disproportionate rates. Even before the current crisis, Jackson’s water had some of the highest lead levels in the nation. 

Olson reports that these problems didn’t crop up overnight like a cold winter storm, but were caused by “long-term disinvestment in many communities, and inadequate local, state and federal investment in our water infrastructure across much of the country.” 

He also noted that these crises should serve as a wake-up call, that our nation’s infrastructure is severely threatened by climate change. “Extreme storms, drought, wildfires, and other effects of changes to the water cycle,” will impact water security for millions, and people of color and low-income communities will face the worst of it all.

The Payment Problem: Cities across America, including Jackson, are expected to pay for their own infrastructure upgrades with little to no support from the state or federal governments.

  •  In Chicago, that means thousands of lead service pipes can’t be replaced. 
  • In Campti, Louisiana, it means families must travel for miles just to wash clothing. In Jackson, it means residents are relying on private water-bottle donations to survive. 

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba (D) told NBC that winterizing the city’s water infrastructure could cost “hundreds of millions of dollars, of which the city of Jackson does not have in its coffers.”

The city is also struggling to afford emergency repairs for current water main breaks and other infrastructure damage, largely due to lack of state funds and the Governor’s apparent failure so far to request a federal disaster declaration, which would free up federal funding for recovery efforts.

It’s time for an all-hands-on-deck response in Jackson,” writes Olson, pointing out that President Biden issued federal emergency or disaster declarations in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma for similar circumstances. To prepare our water systems for climate change, Olson says it will take major investments from the federal government and timely legislation from Congress.

But in the meantime, Olson says, Jackson and its people need help, “it’s long past time for the federal government to step in.”


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