Mississippi faces 6th day of unsafe water, racism is a factor
Jackson residents may not see a solution to the water crisis anytime soon, as the water pipes are still under maintenance while Biden continues to pump billions into Ukraine.
Jackson residents in Mississippi enter the sixth day of a major water crisis, with thousands unable to access clean water, and attempts to restore water supplies were fruitless as Friday witnessed an unexpected setback of a chemical imbalance and reduced water pressure mix.
Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection at the Mississippi health department, said Friday evening during a news conference: "It's like fixing the airplane while you're still flying. You have to be very careful how you fix it so that you stay flying, it's the same thing as we're trying to produce water. All that water demand needs to continue to occur and every time we have to do some maintenance then we have to offset some of that".
Approximately 150,000 residents were served a boil-water notice since July 30, due to a high level of Manganese and diseasing-causing organisms found in the water, and flooding last weekend led to a chemical imbalance at the plant. Since then, Jackson residents have been waiting in long lines in sweltering heat for bottled water they can use to drink, cook or brush their teeth - in addition to shuttering schools and putting students' health at risk.
"We are constantly paying water bills and we can't use the water," said Jackson resident Corean Wheeler. "We feel like we are living in a third-world country in America, and that's kind of bad."
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba pointed to "two consecutive days of gains" on Friday, but also acknowledged that not "all residents have pressure or water. The team is there 24/7 working to make certain that those gains are established or sustained."
On Friday morning, Craig noted the treatment plant was pumping water at 85 PSI, which is a unit known as pounds per square inch, measuring pressure in the lines. It was reduced to 77.2 PSI later in the day, but according to a news release, the reduction indicates areas farther from the plant and at higher elevations may still experience low to no water pressure as the goal was to get pressure levels up to 87 PSI.
City officials said most of Jackson should have water pressure, according to a Facebook post, adding that the water plant made "significant gains" from Friday night into Saturday, increasing the total plant output to 86 PSI with the goal of reaching 87 PSI.
"The outlook is very stable. However, additional challenges as repairs and adjustments are made do leave the potential for fluctuations in progress," the city release said, adding that a few remaining pockets in South Jackson may still be experiencing low or no pressure as work continues in the plant Saturday on both the membrane and conventional systems.
Environmental racism is a factor
Lumumba warned another infrastructure issue could be a near possibility as crews continue to work on fixing the matter, commenting: "As they are able to increase the pressure at the plant to levels that it has not seen in many years, the challenge then becomes whether we have pipes that rupture across the city, we know that we have brittle pipes, we have aged pipes just as our water treatment facilities are aged."
Jackson's water supply has witnessed a series of issues - in early 2020, the water system failed an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspection, due to the detection of harmful bacteria or parasites in the drinking water. During a 2021 winter storm, residents were also without water for a month when pipes froze and burst, not to mention that there exists old and leaky pipes, malfunctions at treatment plants, staffing issues and insufficient money to fix the problems, according to a report by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, which the Clarion Ledger published in January.
In July 2021, the EPA and the city entered into an agreement to address "long-term challenges and make needed improvements to the drinking water system," with the former also recently announcing $74.9 million in federal water and sewer infrastructure funds for Mississippi.
Advocates of the matter have previously pointed out systemic and environmental racism as among the causes of Jackson's ongoing water issues and lack of resources to address them. According to census data, about 82.5% of Jackson's population identifies as Black or African American while the state's legislature is majority White. This is not the first water crisis in a majority-African-American city, as Flint, Michigan suffered greatly in 2014 from the same issue and a significant factor of negligence towards the city due to systemic and environmental racism has led Flint to still have not-completely-safe water.
Although 6 of the 11 water tanks have reached stable levels, officials are still urging residents to boil their water, but for Jackson to reach a clean water benchmark, the state health department must test 120 water samples from different locations over a two-day period, and all the samples must return clean results. Gov. Tate Reeves said: "I can commit to you today that we will continue to advise Jacksonians to boil their water until we actually get to the point," adding that seven state-run water distribution sites handed out almost 2.8 million bottles of water in less than 24 hours Thursday.
US President Joe Biden also approved an emergency declaration for Jackson, and it will allow Mississippi to tap into critical resources to respond to the crisis, Reeves said. This also comes after Biden not only requested $2.98 billion for Ukraine's aid but just additionally requested another $13 billion for the Ukraine package amid his own country hitting rock bottom in issues ranging from inflation and food shortages to lack of sanitary water and droughts.