The Water Crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, Is a Dire Warning Sign

A new episode of the Mother Jones Podcast looks at the crumbling infrastructure in one of America’s most vulnerable cities.

Jackson residents get water from a distribution site on March 7.Michael M. Santiago/Getty

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Jackson, Mississippi, is finally on its way out of a nightmare water crisis.

Freezing winter storms wreaked havoc on Jackson’s old and crumbling water infrastructure. In mid-February the city experienced over 80 water main breaks, leaving tens of thousands of residents without running water. But while the Texas blackouts dominated the news cycle, Jackson’s water crises received far less attention, even as it extended into its fourth week. Jackson’s residents, 80 percent of whom are Black and nearly 30 percent of whom live below the poverty line, have been forced to boil water to drink, bathe, and use the bathroom. They’ve collected rainwater to flush their toilets and bought bottled water to brush their teeth. In the middle of a pandemic, residents of Jackson haven’t had reliable access to clean water to wash their hands.

This water crisis was years in the making. For the past 50 years the Republican-led state government has been cutting taxes and neglecting to invest in infrastructure repairs. Jackson’s shrinking tax base has been exacerbated by white flight and the fact that, unlike other capital cities, Jackson doesn’t make money off property taxes for state-owned buildings. The city of Jackson has a $300 million budget. According to Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Jackson’s wastewater and drinking water systems require at least $2 billion of repairs. 

“It isn’t a matter of if these systems will fail, it’s a matter of when these systems will fail,” Lumumba tells Nathalie Baptiste on the Mother Jones Podcast. “Pipes were bursting throughout the system because they are over 100 years. They’re like peanut brittle.”

On March 17, the city of Jackson Mississippi finally lifted its boil water notice. But Jackson’s water crisis laid bare the budget, infrastructure, and equity issues that leave cities like Jackson vulnerable to future extreme weather events.

“Climate change is significantly impacting the pressure on our infrastructure. We have hotter summers, colder winters, and more rain in the rainy season,” say’s Mayor Lumumba. “They’re becoming our new normal.”

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