The Jackson Water Crisis: The root and the latest update

By Edelia “Dr. Jay” Carthan ,

Staff Writer ,

Many of the citizens of Jackson and Byram have been without water since the winter storm hit the South last month and left both cities with water breaks and leaks that lead to massive outages for almost three weeks.

Both cities, Jackson and Byram, have been on a boil-water advisory since February 23. However, there are still some citizens who have little water pressure or no water at all. The city said that they are expecting to have it repaired by the end of the week.

Jackson reported over 100 main water breaks and leaks, 53 of which have been repaired, the mayor’s office said in a statement.

“We have seen several areas that have been without water that are starting to see water, but we are certainly nowhere near ready to claim victory until every single resident has the restoration of their water,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in a press conference this week.

Some of the water treatment plants in the city couldn’t operate in the freezing temperature that lingered for days. Because the plants were shut down for so long, water pressure in the city dropped in some areas, the mayor explained.

“The system got so far down, and we got behind, and now we’re trying to play catch up,” Charles Williams, Public Works director, said.

There have been community leaders as well as elected officials along with the National Guard who are distributing non-potable water to assist citizens. Potable water can be used to flush toilets only. Groups and other leaders have held bottled water drives for drinking. Almost all of the stores in both cities are out of bottle water.

“This was a breakdown of a system that was supposed to be in place for the safety of our citizens,” Cassandra Welchin said. “This water crisis has really exacerbated a system that has never really worked for poor folks, black folks, seniors, for so many people.”

This water crisis has affected residents day-to-day lives, not having water for weeks, not being able to bathe or cook.

Businessman Jeff Good wrote on his Facebook page, “This pains me greatly, but this is day 10. Broad Street Bakery & Cafe and Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint still have no water. We remain closed.” Water was finally restored a few days ago and the restaurants are now open according to an updated post on Jeff’s page.

“I never thought I would see the day when we would be without water, a necessary essential, but that has been the case since the last winter storm. As a result, I have been unable to provide hair care services at Hair by Sonia,” Sonia Carr posted Wednesday on her Facebook page.

This is not the first time freezing temperatures have caused water problems for the city. Former Mayor Tony Yarber weighed in on the water crisis by sharing an article from the Clarion Ledger when he declared an emergency concerning the water issue five, six years ago.

“Y’all remember when I declared an emergency for the city’s water infrastructure in 2015? You remember… the one the City Council overturned and the then governor didn’t act on and most of y’all laughed at? Oh ok. Welp…go on back to ya Ho bafs.”

A 2015 statement from then mayor Tony Yarber’s office stated, “The city’s aged infrastructure system has been plagued by problems for decades, but it has reached a crisis point following severe winter weather.”

“The city of Jackson’s drinking water quality is among the highest in state, but the issue is our failing infrastructure,” Yarber said in the release. “I’m declaring this emergency to protect our city’s water quality. We are very serious about the quality of life we desire for residents in Jackson. With this declaration, we hope to gain access to federal funds that can expedite infrastructure repairs in this city. We have a plan to fix this.”

In January 2014, voters in the City of Jackson overwhelmingly approved a one percent sales tax increase to fund work on the city’s crumbling infrastructure.

The city estimates that the repairs Jackson needs could cost $743 million to complete the infrastructure work required. According to the city’s plan, the particulars of needed repairs are staggering and astronomical. There’s 1,200 miles of streets, 200-plus bridges and hydraulic structures, and 1,100 miles of water main. The mileage of drainage was too high to count. The cost is projected to be $332 million.

“Infrastructure has been a historical problem, and for years each administration kept kicking that can down the road,’ he said.

“This is a longtime issue, but now we’re paying a severe price for that neglect, Rep. Ronnie Crudup said.

“This problem will persist as long as we continue to disinvest from our own public works department. A functional city has the internal capacity to maintain itself. We must aggressively use the one percent sales tax fund to invest in equipment and supplies so that the Public Works department can maintain the city,” Councilman DeKeither Stamps said.

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