Jackson’s Water Crisis Is Environmental Justice Wake-Up Call

YouJackson, Miss. residents already had their water boiling for one month by the time their taps stopped working at the end August. That’s when floodwaters from heavy rain overwhelmed the city’s fragile water treatment system, cutting off water pressure. On Sept. 5 water pressure was restored, but it’s still hard to find a cup of coffee in the city, with Starbucks and other businesses posting signs announcing indefinite closures due to Jackson’s continuing boil-water notice.

It’s a tragically common occurrence for the majority Black city, where roads, water mains, and other infrastructure is crumbling beneath residents’ feet. The water continued to flow just a few blocks north, in Madison, a majority-white suburb.

Arthur Davis, 57, a patron at a local Jackson restaurant who lives outside the city, told me the problem started 40 years ago when the city’s wealthy white tax base began to flee Jackson. He is deeply disappointed by the crisis. “This is the capital of Mississippi,” he says. “This should never have happened.”

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We tend to think about the worst effects of climate changes when we consider them. Floodwaters rising through porous limestone beneath Miami, wildfires sweeping across California towns, and hurricane force winds whipping between Manhattan’s skyscrapers. However, scientists and activists agree that these disasters only tell part of the story. Climate change can also be a contributing factor to poverty and discrimination.

The reasons behind Jackson’s water crisis are complicated—city management may share some blame, alongside years of neglect by a mostly white, conservative state government. But it’s hard to avoid the fact that flooding that barely touched people’s lives in white suburbs, and which didn’t break recent records, caused the bottom to fall out of a poorer, majority-Black city, whose infrastructure had been so depleted over the years that the heavy rains were essentially the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For years, terms like “environmental justice” have been getting more common in discussions about climate change. Yet, the topic often doesn’t get national attention. Jackson was unable to drink water for two weeks, but that all changed. And as a tide of news coverage seems to indicate, it could represent a turning point in the national conversation: that it’s impossible to talk about the effects of climate change without addressing the fact that those most at risk are those who our society has made most vulnerable.

Continue reading:Jackson, Miss. Mayor Had a ‘Radical’ Vision for His City. This City May Be Out Of Reach Due to the Water Crisis

Keeping that story alive is of critical importance to leaders in the city, who hope the national attention can help garner the resources to address Jackson’s decades-long infrastructure struggles. “At some point in time, we won’t be the predominant story in national news,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told me. “We want to use this moment to ensure that something longer lasting is set in place.”

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