Residents of Jackson, Mississippi told to shower with mouths closed as water crisis enters fifth day

·2-min read
Residents of Jackson, Mississippi told to shower with mouths closed as water crisis enters fifth day

The water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi continues to hound the state’s largest city, even as officials cite progress in getting the system up and running again.

Water pressure is returning to some parts of the city but residents are still being asked to boil water for drinking and cooking. If they’re able to shower, they can, officials said — though people should try to keep the water out of their mouths.

On Thursday, the Jackson city government reported that water tanks around the city were filling back up as repairs continued at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant. The plant broke down earlier this week after flooding on the Pearl River, which runs through the city.

The crisis has upended life in the city with many Jacksonians forced to wait in line for bottled water as taps ran at a trickle or spewed cloudy and brown water. Schools and many businesses have had to close temporarily until reliable water service is restored.

On Wednesday, a rental pump was installed at the water plant to help bring the system back up. The plant was already running on backup pumps before the flood washed in.

In addition to distributing bottled water for drinking, officials have been doling out non-drinkable water, which can be used for manually flushing toilets.

President Joe Biden has signed off on an emergency declaration on the Jackson water crisis, and Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), will travel to the city on Friday.

Floods on the Pearl River came to a head after a massive rainstorm last week, dumping up to 13 inches (33 centimetres) of rain on parts of Mississippi over the course of five days. Normally, Jackson sees about 4.7 in (12 cm) of rain in the entire month of August.

But even before the floods, Jackson’s water system had been severely neglected. The city has had boil water notices on and off all year, including one ongoing since late July. In 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an emergency order warning that the city’s water had the potential to hold disease-causing pathogens like Giardia, E. coli and Cryptosporidium.

Many people are now blaming decades of underinvestment in the city’s infrastructure, especially as a majority-Black city dealing with the legacy of “white flight.” In the 1970s and 1980s, many white and wealthier residents fled to the suburbs after the schools became racially integrated — leaving the city with a much smaller tax base to pay for upkeep and needed infrastructure repairs.

Infrastructure neglect has also become common in many cities across the US — and these issues may come to a head for residents as the climate crisis brings stronger storms, droughts and dangerous heatwaves.