Water faucet (265909)
Water faucet Credit: Public domain/Marina Shemesh

After Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency in the capital on Monday, President Biden bolstered the declaration with his own take on the water crisis. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted that the president had ordered his team to surge federal assistance to the region.

“We are committed to helping the people of Jackson and the state of Mississippi during this urgent time of need,” she said. It was reported that parts of Jackson, the capital, were without running water on Tuesday because flooding had created problems in one of the two water-treatment plants.

Jackson with its 150,000 residents had already been under a boil-water notice for a month because of cloudy water that could lead to digestive problems. Across the city, long lines formed seeking the limited supply of bottled water. Heavy rainfall over the last several days has left too much water on the ground and not enough flowing through the pipes for human consumption.

According to an announcement from the governor’s office, contractors have been hired to assist workers at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Facility, which is operating at diminished capacity after the water pumps failed. Mississippi’s National Guard has also been activated to alleviate the crisis.

The current problem is the result of short staffing and “decades of deferred maintenance,” said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. He added that the influx of water from torrential rains changed the chemical composition needed for treatment, and this slowed the process of pushing water out to customers.

Differences between the Democratic mayor and the Republican governor surfaced on Monday, when Lumumba wasn’t invited to Monday’s press conference. Despite their long-standing dispute, Lumumba said he’s having productive discussions with the Health Department and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and expressed his gratitude for the state’s help.

Jackson is not alone in its water crisis. Many cities, particularly the more marginalized ones, are faced with water problems they can’t afford to fix. This is mainly a problem that stems from a diminished population and an eroded tax base. In Jackson, where the city is more than 80% Black, about 25% of its residents are living in poverty.

The low water pressure has impacted nearly every aspect of the infrastructure, including the delivery of water for showers, cooking, and even flushing the toilet. It’s reminiscent of the water problem that occurred in Flint, Michigan, only the circumstances are not exactly the same.

Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders said the water crisis left his players without air conditioning or ice at their practice facility. “We’re going to find somewhere to practice, find somewhere that can accommodate every durn thing that we need and desire to be who we desire to be, and that’s to dominate,” he said. “The devil is a lie, He ain’t going to get us today, baby.”

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