Jackson, Mississippi: Boil-Water Notice Lifted, But Problems Still Remain


Infrastructural and systemic problems that caused the crisis are yet to be addressed.

On Sep 15, the city of Jackson, Mississippi announced that they will lift the boil water notice, making it so that, for the first time in months, residents aren’t advised to boil water before drinking. The city has dealt with a severe water crisis in recent months, with residents experiencing undrinkable, discolored water, as well as total lack of water for some period of time. 

On Jul 30, the city of Jackson announced a notice to boil water for all citizens connected to surface water connections. The announcement came after increased levels of turbidity (cloudiness or dirtiness of water) were reported by O. B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, the main water treatment center for the city of Jackson. “The level of manganese combined with the use of lime caused an increase in turbidity at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant,” the official city website released. “Due to these high levels of turbidity, there is an increased chance that water may contain disease-causing organisms.”

The notice remained in effect throughout the month of August, with the city distributing bottles of water to residents at fire stations. In late August, massive rainfall and flooding caused the Pearl River, which runs through Jackson, to rise and damage facilities at O. B. Curtis, leaving many residents in the city with little to no water pressure. 

On Aug 29, Jackson mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumamba, declared a water system emergency due to “low or no water pressure for many Jackson customers,” according to the official Jackson website. The next day, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency, and sent the Mississippi National Guard to the city and surrounding area, according to NBC News. 

Schools in Jackson shifted to fully digital on Aug 31 due to the lack of water pressure in school buildings, according to WJTV in Mississippi. Schools distributed meals for breakfast and lunch during the closings, as well as bottled water. The schools remained digital for a full week, until Sept 6 when it was decided that there was enough water pressure throughout the city. The boiled water advisory, however, remained in effect. 

The school closings put a lot of stress on students, parents, and teachers, as it did during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was very frustrating,” Syreena Tatum told Associated Press (AP), as a parent of Jackson students. “As a mother, you want to make sure your children are getting the best education possible, especially knowing that my child functions better in person.”

The recent crisis is similar to a water crisis in early 2021 in Jackson, as residents were without running water for weeks. Winter storms hit power and water infrastructure hard, and water treatment centers couldn’t operate in the low temperatures, according to NPR. “[Pipes] have been described as peanut brittle when our crews jump into holes in order to repair them,” said Mayor Lumamba. 

The recent floodings and failure of the water system have been long expected from an out-of-date, underfunded system. “We have been going at it alone for the better part of two years when it comes to the Jackson water crisis,” said Mayor Lumamba. “I have said on multiple occasions that it’s not a matter of if our system would fail, but when our system would fail.”

Jackson has received a lack of attention from state and federal funding for years, as local and state levels are led by opposing parties. State leadership is led by Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, while Mayor Lumamba is a Democrat. Reeves claimed that city officials failed to give State and Federal officials a plan to fix the water system. Lumumba rebuked that statement when he, according to Axios, revealed documents requesting state and federal funding to repair water infrastructure. 

“When we look at the lack of water in the city of Jackson, when we look at the humiliation that our residents have suffered from, I think this is an important time to focus on that unity and not that division,” said Mayor Lumumba. “That is why I have consistently avoided opportunities to take shots.”

Governor Reeves has come under criticism in recent days when, during a groundbreaking ceremony in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 90 miles south of Jackson, he declared “it is a great day to be in Hattiesburg. It’s also, as always, a great day not to be in Jackson,” according to WAPT News. “I feel like I should take off my emergency manager director hat and leave it in the car and take off my public works director hat and leave it in the car.”

Many point out that race is a big factor in the cause of the crisis. Jackson’s white population has declined in the past several decades, and the city has become a majority Black city with high poverty, with an 80% Black population and a 24.5% poverty rate, according to AP. “Those that are in power… neglected to do what they had the power to do, and that is invest in the infrastructure here in the city of Jackson,” said Danyelle Holmes, an activist with the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign, in an interview with NPR. 

Derrick Johnson, the President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), says the failures are the result of politicians’ irresponsible handling of funding to majority Black communities. “The crisis is the direct result of failures of politicians who have put party and politics over issues that will help people in communities like Jackson, Mississippi, Flint, Michigan, and many other majority Black cities that have been left behind for too long,” said Johnson in a statement from the NAACP. “We need elected officials who will put people over politics and address issues that impact Black communities.”

Despite the boil-water advisory being lifted on Thursday, citizens are not yet trusting of the water. “The water that’s coming out of my kitchen sink smells like fresh sewage,” said Carey Wooten, a Jackson resident, in an interview with AP. Until Jackson gets a full renovation of the water infrastructure, problems will arise, and citizens will have to be cautious about simply drinking water.