The more than 150,000 residents of Jackson, Mississippi, no longer have access to clean municipal drinking water, and in some parts of the city, there isn’t enough water pressure to flush toilets or supply fire hydrants. The city’s long-neglected water system effectively collapsed on Monday after days of torrential rain overwhelmed Jackson’s largest water-treatment plant, state officials said.
Jackson, which is both the state’s capital and most populous city, had already been under a boil-water notice for a month before the system fell apart this week, and it’s not clear when the crisis will be resolved, with state and city officials offering somewhat contradictory assessments regarding the problems. On Tuesday, though water pressure was reportedly restored to parts of the city, some residents reported that the water remained discolored, and efforts to distribute bottled water have thus far fallen short of demand, CNN reports.
The water shortage has upended life in the majority Black city, prompting some businesses to close, hobbling the state government, and forcing residents to wait in long lines for bottled water. On Tuesday, Jackson schools held classes online. At a press conference on Monday night, Mississippi governor Tate Reeves said he was declaring a state of emergency for the city’s water system, had activated the National Guard to help assist, and vowed to “do everything in our power” in get the water running again. Reeves, who is a Republican, blamed both the recent rains as well earlier failures at the plant for the crisis.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Jackson mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a Democrat, made it clear that he felt state assistance in addressing the city’s water-system problems was long overdue. “We’ve been going it alone for the better part of two years when it comes to the Jackson water crisis,” Lumumba said, explaining that “we are in a constant state of emergency.”
“Now we are excited to finally welcome the state to the table,” he said.
The Associated Press notes that the city has not been able to afford to fix its water system, as “its tax base has eroded the past few decades as the population decreased — the result of mostly white flight to suburbs that began after public schools integrated in 1970.” Mayor Lumumba has said that fixing the system could cost at least $200 million. On Monday, Governor Reeves said that the city would have to foot half the bill for the repairs.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday that the federal government is ready to help “as soon as we receive an official request from the state.”