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What caused the Jackson, Mississippi water crisis? Consequence and response from the governor

Over one hundred thousand residents are without running water in Jackson Mississippi after a natural disaster damaged a water treatment plant.

JACKSON, MS - SEPTEMBER 01: Members of the Mississippi National Guard hand out bottled water at Thomas Cardozo Middle School in response to the water crisis on September 01, 2022 in Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson has been experiencing days without reliable water service after river flooding caused the main treatment facility to fail. (Photo by Brad Vest/Getty Images)
Brad VestGetty

Residents of Mississippi’s capitol Jackson have lost access to running water after a water plant in the area was damaged.

Since June, many of the city’s residents have been under a boil advisory, but the situation worsened significantly after severe storms led to flooding. The floods along the Pearl River damaged all of the pumps that deliver water to the city, leaving 150,000 without access.

A message from Governor Tate Reeves’ office described the situation: “the total or near total loss of water pressure throughout the City of Jackson and surrounding areas of Hinds County […] has created a condition of disaster and extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.” For instance, the fire department has warned that they cannot fight fires as their hoses are connected to the water plant that is currently being fixed. Restaurant and other business owners, as well as teachers and students, have all been affected as well as the city figures out ways to get water to those who need it most. Some business owners have warned that if the situation is not resolved in the coming days, they may need to close down, unable to cope with the high costs of purchasing water and ice.

Setting up distribution sites has been the government’s “top priority,” said Governor Reeves.

“Local, state and federal officials are working together to ensure that everyone in Jackson has the supplies they need to weather this crisis. As the state works to repair Jackson’s water system, we’ll ensure these sites are well stocked and able to meet the needs of the people.”

A total of seven sites have been set up to distribute “bulk non-potable water, and hand sanitizer to those impacted by the recent water crisis,” says MEMA Executive Director Stephen McCraney.

A crisis that has been building for decades

A report published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2020 on the situation in Jackson highlighted many weaknesses that have compounded over the years, leading to the current crisis.

Lead pipes, dated and dysfunctional infrastructure, and a state government that for decades has let the conditions of the system deteriorate to such a dangerous condition.

One of the observations made by the EPA that was documented in their report showed how the presence of lead piping posed a risk to public health. Other observations showed that the state had been failing to disinfect the water correctly and that there were serious infrastructure issues at the plant that often led to “leaks and line breaks” in pipes that provided water to communities in the Jackson area. Additionally, inadequate staffing further exacerbated the physical issues outlined above at the plant.

After the report was publisehd, the Republican controlled legailsture passed a bill to begin fixing some of the issues with the water treatment plant. The bill was vetoed by Tate who said that it would give residents the wrong idea.

For the last week or so, I've spent countless hours reviewing hundreds of bills from the legislature. It's the last step...

Posted by Tate Reeves on Monday, June 29, 2020

The Govenor’s remarks bring to light the institutionally racist policies that have left the needs of residents of Jackson, a city that is eighty-four percent Black, ignored by the state.

Other cities have issues too, why should only Jackson get a carve-out?” said Tate when vetoing the bill. One could respond to him now pointing out that residents of Jackson are without running water in their home, businesses, schools, churches, and other venures.

When announcing his decision to veto, he wrote that even if the bill did not lead to corruption, he rejected the idea “that the government can act like free money is floating around to pay for all these things.” Access to water is a human right and has been recognized as such by the United States, a party to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. If governments have mandates, one surely would be to ensure that its citizens have access to clean drinking water. Governor Tate’s decision to reject that opportunity could turn out to be deadly, considering the level of contamination found in water samples and any fatalities that occur because of the current issues.