In Jackson, Mississippi, where the majority of the city’s residents are Black, an ongoing water crisis continues nearly a month after a historic winter storm froze pipes and water mains.
According to Ellen Ann Fentress and Richard Fausset of The New York Times, more than 70% of the city’s 160,000 residents still remain under a water advisory and have been told to boil all the water being used in their homes — especially before drinking and/or cooking with it.
“The city’s water system, parts of which are more than 100 years old, was no match for the storm, the same weather event that crushed Texas’ power grid and water systems, leaving millions of Texans without heat or drinkable water,” Fentress and Fausset reported. “Across Jackson, the freezing temperatures burst pipes and water mains and left a trail of misery that has stretched on for nearly a month.”
The crisis, while this time stretching much longer than expected, is not new in Jackson, the pair reported.
“Boil-water notices are common and an enduring municipal drama has played out for decades, as white [residents fleeing the area], an eroding tax base and poor management have left the remaining residents with old and broken pipes, but without the public funding to fix them,” they said.
Public health officials have also warned of potentially harmful levels of lead in the city’s water similar to the disaster that occurred in Flint, Michigan. And Jackson’s billing system is also known for regular failures, failing to charge customers while simultaneously sending errant statements for thousands of dollars to others.
According to Fentress and Fausset, the city’s Mayor, Chokwe Lumumba, has estimated repairing the city’s failed water infrastructure could cost upwards of $2 billion. He recently sent a proposal to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves asking for $47 million to start emergency repairs. The National Guard has already stepped in to help distribute water to the city’s distressed population.
“There’s a saying that you should allow no crisis to go to waste,” said Lumumba in an interview with The Times. “It’s crises like these that really allow us to take stock of conditions of where we are as a city, where we are as a state and hopefully it allows us to build the resolve to address it.”
“The city has had a dwindling tax base for decades after the integration of schools and other public spaces in Jackson triggered a dramatic flight of white residents,” Fentress and Fausset reported. “In many cases, they took their wealth and tax dollars with them. In 1960, the city was about 64% white and 36% Black. Today, it is about 16% white and 82% Black.”
“Jackson’s infrastructure was built at a time when the population was much higher, and white flight has led to divestment,” Lumumba told Fentress and Fausset. “It has left fewer people to maintain what was built for more people.”
For many, this latest water failure is the last straw. A number of individuals interviewed for The Times story said they were thinking of moving and that this horrible winter in Jackson would be their last. Others admitted they were too old and too cash-strapped to relocate elsewhere, underscoring the predicament many are facing in Jackson, Mississippi.