On August 29, 2022, flooding of the Pearl River damaged infrastructure at a Mississippi water treatment facility leading to contaminated drinking water in Jackson, Mississippi’s state capital. Jackson Mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, argued that the water emergency is due to gross state-level disinvestment and discrimination in infrastructure funding and development. Nick Judin, the state reporter with Mississippi Free Press, a local non-profit news site, noted in an interview with PBS News Hour, that historic White Flight and discriminatory housing laws led to increased populations of low-income residents and city debt.
On August 31st the Biden Administration issued a State of Emergency declaration for the state allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts related to the crisis. White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, noted that the Environmental Protection Agency is deploying a subject matter expert to support the infrastructure of the failed water treatment plants. Pierre also stated that the federal government has already committed to $450 million dollars through the American Rescue Plan for water upgrades across the state. Twenty million dollars is allocated to the city of Jackson for water sewer and infrastructure upgrades. The state was awarded $75 million dollars through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will support clean water projects including an additional $429 million dollars invested over the next five years. Jackson, Mississippi also received $300, 000 dollars from the Biden-Harris administration Justice40 initiative to support an Army Corps of Engineers validation study to reduce flooding from the Pearl River.
However, some city officials argue that the city of Jackson is often overlooked and underfunded by state-allocated infrastructure funds. In an interview with BBC, Jackson City Council president, Aaron Banks, noted that he watched infrastructure funds go to surrounding counties but never to the areas that need it the most. The councilmember argued that residents have been dealing with monthly boil water notices since pipes froze during the winter of 2020. Banks went on to say, “Unfortunately, that is something we have gotten used to as American citizens – nobody should be adapting to that type of quality of life.”
Environmental Justice advocacy organization, Black Millennials for Flint (BM4F), issued a statement arguing the emergency “was no accident–it is the result of decades of environmental racism and climate injustice to further oppress majority Black and poor people.” In an almost prophetic fashion, The Pearl River Flood occurred on the 17th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – the category five hurricane that decimated cities, killed 1, 833 people, and highlighted segregation and bias in infrastructure and emergency management.
BM4F also made note of the connections the Jackson Water crisis has to the Flint Water Crisis. “This situation sounds so eerily similar to the Flint Water Crisis that began in April 2014. We are learning more now than ever that the environmental terrorism exemplified in Flint was not an isolated incident, but a strategic form of white supremacy and genocide to aggressively attack Black and Latinx communities. The population of Jackson, Mississippi is 82 percent Black and roughly 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Groups like Cooperation Jackson and Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition are working across the city to distribute clean water and offer mutual aid assistance. Unfortunately, many residents argue that they have been dealing with this water crisis for months. Members of Cooperation Jackson and longtime Jackson residents were featured in a BBC news article focusing on the struggles residents continue to face due to the water crisis.
Jackson, Mississippi city government is closely monitoring repairs to the water treatment plants. On September 4th, 2022 Jackson issued a statement that tanks at the OB Curtis water treatment plant saw increased storage levels overnight and that “All of Jackson should now have pressure and most are now experiencing normal pressure.”
Community organizations are still providing clean water to those in need and accepting monetary donations and volunteer support. Learn more by visiting the websites of Cooperation Jackson or volunteering with the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition endorsed by rapper, activist, and Jackson native, David Banner.