Intense winter storms hit the southern region of the United States this winter. Areas of Texas were most severely hit, with millions left without power for over a month. Many of the southern states involved experienced unprecedented low temperatures and heavy snowfalls. The winter storms in Jackson, Mississippi, caused the water screens at the city’s water treatment plants to freeze, preventing water from passing through. According to WLBT News, the director of Jackson’s Public Works Department, Charles Williams, stated that once the city had gotten the water screens running again, there was an issue with the raw water pumps. The water pumps were responsible for pumping in natural water from Ross Barnett Reservoir and subsequently passing through the water screens to be filtered and placed in a settling tank.
The malfunctioning of equipment at the treatment plants caused water production in the city to slow significantly. Thousands of homes were affected by the water outage. Many citizens experienced low water pressure from faucets in their homes and unsafe water that was not properly filtered and disinfected. On February 16, the city issued a boil-water notice, meaning all Jackson residents were asked to boil their water before use. This notice continued for weeks, up until the city received clearance to lift it on March 17th, over a month after the water outage. However, many in the community continue to experience water pressure issues.
Most recently, the Mayor of Jackson, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, wrote an email to Mississippi governor Tate Reeves requesting $47 million to fund repairs for the city’s water system. Jackson was only granted $3 million in funding, solely allocated to one water plant in the city. This is 3 million out of a total $356 million project budget.
Many Jackson residents have criticized the state’s response to the water crisis, including representative Chris Bell. According to Mississippi Today, Bell issues a statement in which he says, “Unfortunately, our requests have fallen on deaf ears with regard to our quality of water issues.”
African-Americans predominantly inhabit Jackson. According to a 2019 census, Black/African Americans make up approximately 82.2% of Jackson’s population. The city’s water system has been a longstanding issue that many believe was bound to escalate to a critical point.
Water issues can be traced back as early as 2016, when the city issued a warning on rising levels of lead in the water, resulting from negligent water treatment methods. A Detailed Facility Report on Jackson reveals that the city has had multiple Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) treatment technique violations over the course of 5 years, many of them unaddressed. Another Civil Enforcement Case Report reveals that on March 27, 2020, an emergency administrative order was issued in Jackson over traces of E.Coli found in the water. In addition, many winters in Jackson have lead to malfunctions in the water system in the past.
What’s most concerning is that the situation in Jackson is not an isolated one. Other predominantly black/African American communities in the U.S have experienced some form of negligence in regard to public health and city infrastructure. The people of Flint, Michigan (approximately 54.1% Black/African American, according to 2019 census) went without safe drinking water for over four years after their water was contaminated with lead and legionella bacteria.
America’s history with racism is no secret, along with its history with discrimination. In the past, the practice of redlining allowed many banks in the U.S. to deny mortgage loans to African Americans and other ethnic groups. Historically, mortgage lenders would draw a line on a map of the city in red ink that separated areas considered “high risk.” These areas were inhabited by predominantly African Americans and Latinos. On the other side would be the lower risk areas and more preferable to live in, mostly settled by whites.
The practice has since been outlawed. However, we can still see the after-effects of redlining to this day. When we see areas that are predominantly inhabited by minorities such as Jackson, Baltimore, Detroit and Flint, they are often areas that deal with major infrastructure issues and a lack of funding.
State leaders need to better address the clear economic and racial disparities within the country in a transparent way. These issues extend far beyond just race but also human rights. Everyone should have the right to clean and safe drinking water, and local government should not be able to ignore these issues with no repercussions. Ultimately, we must agree to tackle these disparities head-on and speak out against unethical practices.
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