From a piece in the Center for Disaster Philanthropy updated in November, 2022, the ongoing water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi is summarized. Here are a few paragraphs, with a link to the entire piece below:
“The intersection of two disasters – infrastructure failure and river flooding – exacerbated a pre-existing water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi.
In mid-to-late August 2022, heavy rains led to flooding along the Pearl River watershed. While the Pearl was predicted to overtop, it crested below the major flood stage of 36 feet at 35.37 feet. This prevented the large-scale evacuations and extensive damages that were expected. However, localized flooding damaged one of the water treatment plants leading to an inability to produce sufficient water pressure at the O.B. Curtis treatment plant. This was combined with a malfunction of the pumps at the J.H. Fewell treatment plant.
Water pressure was restored in Jackson on Sept. 5, but the ongoing boil water advisory remained in effect until Sept. 15. This will mark the first time in almost seven weeks that residents should be able to drink the water in their homes, without boiling it beforehand. In the absence of drinking water, the state distributed approximately 12 million bottles of water.
On Oct. 28, Governor Tate Reeves extended the state of emergency until Nov. 22. In his press release, he stated, ‘Since I first declared a State of Emergency on August 30, the state has invested nearly $13 million to prop up Jackson’s failing water system, distribute water, and restore clean running water to the residents of the city. Over this time, the state of Mississippi entered the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, identified the rampant issues that existed due to years of neglect, and immediately began repair operations. Jackson’s mayor has announced that the city will have a private operator in place by November 17, stating, ‘we anticipate having a contract in place by November 17th.’ Recognizing this, I have decided to end the emergency on November 22, to allow for a five-day transition period between the state’s management team and the chosen private operator. At that point, the State of Emergency must, by statute, end as the water system can be managed solely by local control, as has been insisted upon by the City of Jackson. The State of Emergency must only exist when a situation is beyond local control and the City of Jackson has demanded local control.”’
Per Oliver Laughland in a recent piece on the Mississippi water crisis in The Guardian,
“It underlined the daily struggle faced by thousands in this predominantly Black city, where poorer neighborhoods have routinely borne the brunt of the ongoing disaster. Simple tasks become complex or insurmountable. Greater burdens are placed on those living farther from resources. And, for many, the days are centered around an often frantic search for clean and fresh water.”
Per Laughland, this is the third water outage in two years. Why do elected officials continue to not address problems until they become a crisis? This kind of failure is as old as time and relates to two themes – money and courage. Money for maintenance or repairs tend to get put off until something breaks or fails. Courage is lacking because, for some reason, politicians do not get as much political goodwill from preventing a crisis as they do by addressing it when it gets broken. And, by the way, it usually costs more to fix a crisis than prevent one.
This relates to any infrastructure need which has been in dire need of funding for about a decade. Finally, infrastructure funding was included in the recent Inflation Reduction Bill that was passed and strides are now being made. Yet, with respect to water, we seem to be getting caught with our pants down in the US and have for several years.
It should be noted that the number one or two long term global concern per the members of the World Economic Forum for several years has been the global water crisis. Yet, here in the US we rarely hear of this until a something breaks. In the US, the problem is water supply as well as water distribution. The fight among seven states over water from the Colorado River has been heightened the last couple of years as the water diminishes. We also have farmers and ranchers raising concerns over diminishing water supply. It should be noted that climate change is only exacerbating the water problem.
And, it is common that water crises impact the more impoverished citizens. This occurred in Flint, Michigan where water was drawn for the poorer Flint area using lead-heavy pipes where the lead causes brain damage, especially in Children whose brains are still developing. This is a reason why the Jackson problem was not fixed beforehand. Fewer constituents of the Republican based legislature lived there.
I should not just pick on Republican led legislatures, as more funding is needed regardless of political persuasion. In fact, a Republican and Democrat led a bipartisan push for years for more infrastructure funding, supported by the US Chamber of Commerce and Labor Unions, but failed to get the needed funding. And, it is disappointing, but unsurprising that almost all Republicans in Congress did not vote for the infrastructure bill last year.
Water is a problem and it will continue to be one. Will we address it like it should be addressed? Of course not, especially with the new Republican majority in the US House. But, we need to spend more time talking about it and providing solutions and funding. Air and water represent two of the greatest needs we humans have. We likely should pay attention to them.
Just to illustrate one final point. In a documentary about the 2007-08 financial crisis, an investment advisor who tried to forewarn banks that it was coming and they were in danger of going bankrupt, a final statement was made. When asked what he was most concerned about going forward after predicting the housing crisis (and successfully betting against those who would not listen to him), he said the global water crisis.