Volunteers give away gallon-jugs of water to Jackson residents on August 11, 2022. Photo credit: City of Jackson facebook

Mayor Lumumba cited for not having alternative water plan before Jackson’s water and sewage system failed

Critical need for water supplies grows after Jackson, Miss. water treatment system fails. This crisis could have been prevented.

Jackson’s Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has been working with state and federal emergency services to keep residents hydrated, while also restoring a system that they say at best will be working in a few days. But on Tuesday, bottle water distribution temporarily stopped when 700 cases were passed out in two hours.

One way to address the water shortage, city officials “brought in tankers to distribute non-potable water.” Yet, the water is non-drinkable. Rather, it should be used for “flushing toilets, washing clothes and cleaning.”  

In social media posts, the City suggested that residents bring garbage cans or coolers to store water. Yet, therein lies another thorn in local logistics for many. How to get to the ad hoc watering hole then how to haul it? In response, frustrated city folk left hundreds of comments on online community threads.

“Can’t really carry a garbage can of water while walking or taking the bus,” quipped Theresa Masker Anderson, a Jacksonian who has offered neighbors a place to take a shower in the crisis.

Community member Victoria Charles voiced, “really, the city leaders of Jackson could bring in a water tanker [but] elderly & young children need […] clean drinking water.”

Another resident, Walter Terrell Henderson pointed out, “Shoo with all the potholes by the time we make it home we won’t have any water left.”

But, the infrastructure failures are not a surprise for city residents. In fact, Jackson’s water and sewage system issues persisted for months before it met critical status in late August after major flooding from a storm. The city had been issuing boil water alerts since July 12, and distributing bottled water since early July 2.

48″ Water Line Project in 2011. Welding casings together before the next section is bored under Pascagoula Street. Photo credit: City of Jackson Flickr

“I keep saying we’re going to be the next Michigan,” said Jeraldine Watts, 86 to CNN reporters. The decades-long water problems show deep fissures in Jackson’s infrastructure spouted some time ago. When whites began to leave the city for the suburbs in the 1990s—just as more Blacks were moving in—Jackson’s water and sewage plants began to decline. 

Along with the white flight was the forfeiture of Caucasian tax dollars. One of the poorest states in the union, the wealth gap between white and Black Mississippians is abysmal. In 2019, a racial wealth gap study said white households’ median net worth was $54,000 greater than Blacks, and 47 percent of African American children lived in “concentrated poverty.” Another report by Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning showed that African American income was about 69 percent of what whites earned. 

While Jackson managed to keep water flowing in the city, it did not have the economic bandwidth to deal with the miles of cast iron pipes installed around the 1950s. Plus, it consistently was under-resourced in state and local funds to upgrade the system. Then in 2021, after a historic winter storm hit the deep south causing the water system to shut down. In the aftermath, Jacksonians were placed on boil-water notice for four weeks, reported Politico.

To get state assistance on the issue, Mayor Lumumba has reached out to the Gov. Tate Reeves (R) multiple times, but to no avail. However, Mayor Lumumba received notice of non-compliance from the Environmental Protection Agency this past January for not making repairs to the City’s water treatment facility in the time frame allotted by the agency. For the 53rd mayor, it was due to the supply chain issues from the pandemic that caused delays. Yet and still, Mississippi Free Press reported that the EPA issued a report stating that the administration failed to put together an operations team and an alternative water plan just days before the systems shut down.

The latest fiasco in the water and sewage systems has forced Gov. Reeves to adequately respond. “We’ve been going it alone for the better part of two years when it comes to Jackson’s water crisis. I have said on multiple occasions it was not a matter of if our system would fail, but a matter of when our system would fail,” Mayor Lumumba explained at a press conference. “So now, we are finally excited to welcome the state to the table and the valuable resources they bring.”

Mayor Lumumba issued a state of emergency on August 29. President Joe Biden “declared that an emergency exists in the State of Mississippi and ordered Federal assistance to supplement the state’s response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from a water crisis,” on August 30.

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