Racism seen as root of water crisis in Mississippi capital

Jackson, Miss. (AP) — Kerry Wooten spent nearly seven weeks hunting safe drinking water As for herself, her two kids and three dogs are out every day as Taco Bell manager, so Governor Tate Reeves’ announcement that the water in the Mississippi capital is clear again came as welcome news.

But the crisis in the city of Jackson is not over, even though Its boil-water advice was dropped on Thursday. While the state plans to stop providing free bottled water in places around the city on Saturday night, the city said water pressure was still not fully restored, and state health officials said some pipes Lead is so worrisome that pregnant women and young children should still use bottled water.

“The water that’s coming out of my kitchen sink smells like fresh sewage… it’s terrible,” Wooten said earlier this month. “I’ve tried giving water to one of my dogs, but when she smells it, she can’t even touch it. She walks away from it.”

Wooten said on Friday that the liquid flowing into her kitchen sink still smells like sewage but not as bad as before, and she’s glad they’re getting their supply of bottled water every day before the distribution sites run out. But don’t have to go.

Other residents told The Associated Press on Friday that their water was too discolored to count, so they would now have to rely on the distribution of water by community-run charities or buy the water themselves again, causing injury. would be an insult.

Jackson was already under a month-long boil-water notice from the state health department when torrential rains hit the Pearl River in August, and the treatment system was overwhelmed. The water pressure suddenly dropped, the tap remained empty for several days.

How did this happen? Residents, politicians, experts and activists say systemic racism is the root cause.

Jackson’s population has declined since the 1980s, a decade after the city’s schools began consolidating. Many white families left for the suburbs, leaving little revenue to maintain the infrastructure. Middle-class black people then moved out to escape urban decay and rising crime. State and federal spending never made the difference.

Marcus Hendrix said, “The legacy of racial zoning, segregation, legitimate redlining has ultimately reduced the segregation, segregation and sequestration of racial minorities in communities, with consequences for the built environment, including infrastructure.” an associate professor of urban studies and planning at the University of Maryland.

Other cities across the United States may face similar challenges with aging water systems that are poorly equipped to deal with more intense and frequent flooding due to climate change, experts in water infrastructure and environmental justice told The Associated Press. told.

And when it comes to water scarcity and pollution, they say working-class communities of color are the most vulnerable. According to the US Census Bureau Jackson’s population is more than 80% black and the poverty level is 24.5%. Majority-Black Flint, Michigan, has been struggling to remove lead from its waters since 2014. Other areas where large poor or non-white populations lack reliably safe drinking water include major cities such as Baltimore and Honolulu, as well as smaller municipalities such as Las Vegas, New Mexico; and Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Heather McTeer Tony served as mayor of Greenville, Mississippi to clean up spilled tap water, before serving as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast regional administrator from 2014 to 2017. Now she works on environmental justice issues across the country for the Environment Defense Fund. He noted that many majority-minority communities do not have consistent access to clean water.

“Any community that is suffering from a lack of infrastructure maintenance is dealing with the same problem, maybe just on a different scale,” Tony said. “But across the country….with poor communities, who are often black, brown, indigenous and on the front lines of the climate crisis, we see the same thing happening over and over again.”

Hendrix and Tony blame systemic racism for government disinvestment in communities of color. Maisie Brown calls Jackson’s troubles “a product of environmental racism”.

“I don’t think we realize how deeply racism runs deep in all of our structures and systems, including infrastructure,” said Brown, a 20-year-old student at Jackson State University.

Brown is a member of the Mississippi Students Water Crisis Advocacy Team, a group of about 30 students delivering water to residents with disabilities, the elderly, or those who do not have a vehicle. That’s the relief Jackson seems to be in – those most affected are doing what they can to help each other. But limited handouts every day are not enough, forcing people to buy water in shops.

Two cases that Wootton and about 500 others picked up at the site in South Jackson one day were under nine gallons (30 liters). That’s less than 3% of the roughly 300 gallons (1,136 liters) the EPA says the average American household uses each day.

The improvements needed at the city’s two treatment plants included replacing ineffective pumps, leaky filters, faulty membranes and bad pipes; Removal of accumulated sludge and hiring enough qualified staff to properly manage the system. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a Democrat, pleaded for patience while calling for state and federal help, saying such reforms could cost billions of dollars that the city does not have.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan, visiting Jackson, said he wanted the city to get its fair share of federal money flowing to the state.

Reeves, a Republican, has not said how much it should cost Mississippi to solve the problem. The legislature directed a $400 million federal pandemic relief fund to upgrade water infrastructure around the state, but it’s unclear how much Jackson will receive because cities are still applying for the money. “We can’t exactly predict what might go wrong in such a broken system in the future,” Reeves said Thursday.

Without reliable funding streams, many residents of Jackson don’t expect to see sustainably potable water anytime soon.

Carla McCullough, 46, is a black woman and Jackson native who runs a charity that helped organize the distribution site where Wooten got her water. She told the AP that residents of the city have experienced water scarcity at some stage or the other throughout their lives.

“I want to be optimistic and optimistic,” McCullough said. “In my lifetime, I cannot see the infrastructure fixed and it restored to the point where there is no water problem. But I hope my son and his kids don’t have to deal with it.”

Emily Vagster Pettus contributed to this report. Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley,

The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content

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