The Jackson, Mississippi Water Crisis: A Brief Explainer

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If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ve certainly heard about the recent water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi. What caused this crisis, how is it being handled, and what’s the current state of the situation? Read on below to find out.

What is the water crisis?

Late last month, severe rainstorms in Mississippi caused the Pearl River, which runs north to south through the center of the state, to flood. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba declared a local emergency on August 24, and the flooding didn’t retreat to normal levels until September 1.

Due to the flooding, the O. B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, Jackson’s largest water treatment facility, stopped the treatment of drinking water until further notice. The plant had already been running on backup generators due to failures in July. Approximately 150,000 Jackson residents were immediately cut off from access to clean water. 

How has the federal government responded to this?

President Joe Biden declared the situation in Jackson a federal disaster to help send emergency aid to the city. Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were sent to Jackson to assess the water treatment plant and help brainstorm possible solutions.

In addition, the state of Mississippi is set to receive $429 million in federal aid through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will help fix water and wastewater systems over the next five years. However, it could be mid-2023 before they receive these funds.

How have the state and local governments helped?

So far during this crisis, the state and local governments have clashed and failed to work together, making it more difficult for the problem to be solved. Some have called the situation an example of environmental racism, as Jackson is a predominantly African-American city in a state whose people and government are primarily white.

On the other hand, some have called the emergency an example of the failure of Jackson’s city government and the political gridlock that can happen in times of need. Others have criticized Mississippi governor Tate Reeves for his handling of the situation. Reeves began holding press conferences shortly after the disaster began, and he didn’t invite Lumumba.

What’s the state of the situation now?

As of Monday, September 5, Reeves has said that water pressure is restored to the city. Reeves said, “there may be more bad days in the future, we have, however, reached a place where people in Jackson can trust that water will come out of the faucet. People in Jackson can trust the toilets can be flushed.”

It will take time for all the unclean water to be flushed out of the system and for residents to have access to clean water again. In the meantime, Reeves, Lumumba, and other officials are discussing long-term options to keep this from happening again. On Monday, Reeves said that he and the state are open to the option of privatizing the water system in Jackson.

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