“Water is a basic necessity and it just brought a lot of frustration, anger, and disappointment,” said one of the city’s residents. “If you don’t know when it’s coming back, what is being done to help us?”
By Kenny Stancil, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 3-2-2021
“It’s been two weeks and I know families with infants who don’t have water. The city needs help. I’m thankful my water is trickling out enough to flush my toilet but dang. This just needs to be fixed at this point. It just needs to be fixed.”
That’s what Jamario Townsend, a resident of Jackson, Mississippi, recently posted on the city’s Facebook page, according to reporting by The Daily Beast. Tens of thousands of people in Jackson have lacked reliable access to running water for roughly two weeks and remain under a boil-water alert since a pair of mid-February winter storms damaged the capital city’s outdated water system, prompting renewed calls for major investments in upgrading infrastructure.
As The Washington Post reported Monday night:
On Feb. 15, residents across Mississippi woke up to a blanket of ice, uncommon in this part of the South. The ice trapped many residents in their homes and rendered roads impassable. Days later, another winter storm made its way through the state, leaving residents in central Mississippi without power and ultimately resulting in six deaths.
While power was eventually restored, the city of Jackson soon faced another problem: lack of running water. On Feb. 17, the system lost power, and officials immediately issued a boil-water notice to 43,000 connections, including households and businesses.
Grocery store shelves had already been picked bare thanks to the ice storm, and bottled water was scarce. Local organizations stepped up to deliver cases of bottled water to those in need.
Two weeks later, many residents still don’t have water. Officials say it’s impossible to know how many homes are completely without water, as some may have a trickle coming out of their pipes. But Jackson Public Works Director Charles Williams said Monday morning that the current pressure was at 37 pounds per square inch—it’s normally between 85 and 90.
Nancy Palmer, an 82-year-old who lives in a senior apartment in northeast Jackson, has lacked running water since February 16.
“I can’t even describe how I feel,” she told the Post. “I’m disgusted, despondent, everybody here is. It’s like nobody cares. You’re just here.”
Enrika Williams, a professional chef who lives in south Jackson, told The Daily Beast that many people in the city—home to about 160,000 residents and a poverty rate of close to 27%—cannot afford to buy hundreds of dollars worth of bottled water for cooking, bathing, and laundry.
“Water is a basic necessity and it just brought a lot of frustration, anger, and disappointment,” she said. “We aren’t out of the woods yet. There’s still a lot of people without water.”
The Post noted that “water woes aren’t new for the city’s residents. Boil notices are so common that a T-shirt shop sells items that proclaim ‘Welcome to Boil Water Alert Mississippi.'”
But the massive scale of the current crisis is unprecendented. All of Jackson is either without running water or subject to a boil-water notice.
“Usually when we have an outage it’s in one neighborhood, so people are used to running over to their friends’ house or their auntie’s house to take a shower or fill up some jugs,” Laurie Bertram Roberts, director of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, told The Daily Beast. “Usually, you can grab your buckets and find some place to fill them, whatever. But when it’s the whole damn city?”
Like many residents who are losing patience, Enrika Williams told the news outlet that “there was no plan that we could see. The press conferences were redundant. If you don’t know when it’s coming back, what is being done to help us?”
In 2014, the city approved a 1% sales tax increase with the goal of improving its aging infrastructure, but that levy raises only $13 million in annual revenue, a tiny fraction of the $2 billion Mayor Chokwe Lumumba says the city needs—not only for the water system but also for making long-term repairs to the sewage system and roads.
“Even with that, we are far and away from the ability to be able to address these issues in a significant way,” Lumumba told the Post. The mayor has called for help from the state government, saying “we need direct resources that can come to the city of Jackson.”
Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on February 23 tweeted that his administration had obtained tankers “to provide non-potable water for Jackson to jumpstart the system and accelerate the fix” and would deploy the National Guard to assist, adding: “We will restore clean water for the people of Jackson!”
Charles Williams, the city’s public works director, told WAPT 16, a local ABC News affiliate, that officials are “trying to get a definitive timeline as to when water will be restored to all or our citizens.”
“We know some have been restored and we are pleased with that,” he said. “But we’re still heavily concerned about our residents who are in south Jackson. And other little pockets throughout the city. Those residents continue to suffer without water.”
Over the weekend, “fed-up locals flooded the city’s Facebook page to demand answers,” The Daily Beast reported.
“We understand the frustration,” said Charles Williams. “We understand the complaints, and sadly, they’re right. We are doing everything that we can. We continue to ask for patience, but know that work is being done.”
In a statement shared with The Daily Beast, Lumumba said that “our systems were never meant to endure days of ice storms and sub-zero temperatures coupled by road conditions that prevented the delivery of critical supplies.”
Reeves appears to concur, saying at a press conference last Tuesday that Jackson’s water equipment problems date back to “50 years of negligence and ignoring the challenges of the pipes and the system.”
“That 50 years of deferred maintenance is not something that we’re going to fix in the next six to eight hours,” he added.
The Republican lawmaker’s comments could be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of the recently introduced WATER Act, which, as Common Dreams reported last week, seeks to remedy the country’s water crisis and ensure guaranteed access to clean and safe drinking water as a human right.
Charles Williams said that without adequate investment, “it’s going to happen again. It’s just a matter of time.”