Here’s what you need to know about the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi

Here’s what you need to know about the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi

Between the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the recent storms and subsequent power and heat outages in Texas, and the seemingly endless hate spewing out of members of the GOP, it can be hard to keep track of stories that don’t always get the national media attention they deserve. One such case is a water crisis happening in Jackson, Mississippi. As reported by The Daily Beast at the end of February, thousands of people living in Jackson had been without water for almost two weeks. People who do have water are now under a boil warning and are asked to conserve the resource.

How could this possibly happen? A winter storm hit the area in the middle of February, leading the city’s water equipment to essentially freeze and burst. Public Works Director Dr. Charles Williams explained, “Our system basically crashed like a computer and we’re trying to rebuild it,” as reported by local outlet WLBT.

As of Sunday, teams started opening fire hydrants in some neighborhoods to move things along. Why? In simple terms, Williams explained, “A lot of times when you lose system pressure, a lot of air gets in the line. So, as we’re trying to push more water out into the system, we wanted to take some of that air off,” as reported by local outlet WAPT

During a press conference on Feb. 23, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba previously described the water crisis as an “act of God.” Lumumba, a Democrat, stated: “This crisis we are in the midst of is an act of God and was not caused through incompetence. It was not a failure to act from any individuals and was not a failure to act from the administration.”

And for the residents? Given that people are facing crises on multiple levels, there’s understandable frustration. “There wasn’t anyone at the forefront who gave a damn, so to speak,” Enrika Williams, a chef in Jackson, told the Daily Beast in an interview about the crisis. Williams told the outlet she ended up spending over $100 for bottled water for her home. “It makes you feel a lot of things,” she told the outlet. “You just expect better.”

Fellow Jackson resident Terri Hall spoke to WAPT about her experience during the water crisis. “Somewhere, someone has to take control of this and stop blaming it on an act of God,” Hall, who told the outlet she worries the water isn’t safe even with the boil advisory, stated. “Yeah it’s going to be expensive,” she noted. “But that is what we pay taxes for.”

What is the city doing in addition to actually trying to fix the system? According to WAPT, the city is “working” to bring bottled water to disabled, elderly, and housebound residents. People who bring their own containers can also go to one of a number of locations around the city to pick up nonpotable water during set periods.

Though the real-time human impact is of course the most important issue, burst water pipes in downtown Jackson reportedly caused significant flooding damage to an enormous building that developers had been planning to turn into apartments and a grocery store. Jackson Planning and Development Director Jordan Hillman told WLBT that he “looked in the window and saw the atrium looking like a swimming pool.” Water from the burst pipe reportedly flowed down several stories of the building and stayed for several days. This is an example of why funding for infrastructure is so important: Disasters have both immediate and long-term effects on everything from health to security to economic growth in the area.

Obviously, being without water is stressful and frightening no matter what the circumstances involved. Given that we’re experiencing a pandemic and are being actively encouraged to wash our hands (not to mention clothes and face masks) whenever possible, going without running water is a fresh layer of anxiety and frustration.

As of now, there is no timeline for when water pressure will be available to the entire city, though according to the Mayor’s Feb. 28 press briefing, “several” areas that had been without water now have water. Lumumba stressed: “We certainly are nowhere near ready to claim victory until every single resident has the restoration of their water.” The mayor also emphasized that he understands residents need water for health, medication, and sanitation, and that it’s more than just an issue of convenience. 

You can check out the mayor’s recent press statement below.

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