Climate and Environmental Injustice: Thousands without water in Jackson, Mississippi

More than a trillion dollars needs to be invested in infrastructure by the end of this decade, or communities like Jackson won’t have the resiliency to deal with the effects of climate change.

Jackson, MS Skyline with flooding Pearl River in the foreground in August 2022

Residents of Jackson, Mississippi, are without clean drinking water after heavy rain caused the Pearl River to crest just below the major flood stage this week. A major pump at the city’s main water treatment facility was damaged, but the city’s mayor says the current water crisis is a result of years-long issues.

The O.B. Curtis Water Treatment plant was pushed to failure after the city experienced a high level of flooding due to heavy rainfall over the last week — following nearly 30 days of an ongoing ‘boil water’ advisory that has become common in Jackson. Its complete failure has left the city without enough safe water for people to use.

The EPA defines Environmental Justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. In a Statement on the Jackson, MS Water Crisis, NAACP President Derrick Johnson addressed the disparities placed in sharp relief by the Jackson, Mississippi water crisis, “Somehow, in the year 2022, equality and justice remain out of reach for Black communities across America. The disparities facing our community are stark – just look at the catastrophe unfolding in my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi.” He went on to say, “More than a hundred thousand people, the majority of whom are Black, are without safe access to drinking water for the foreseeable future.” The State of Mississippi and the city of Jackson must prioritize providing basic services to the community. A lack of investment by the political leadership has created this crisis and highlights the racial injustice that is associated with the distribution of state and federal funds for clean water.

Jackson, MS, USA – August 28, 2022: Pearl River flood water rising in neighborhoods in Jackson, MS | Photo from Shutterstock

Billions of dollars have been made available by the federal government over the last several years for investments in community water infrastructure, to avert crises like the one in Jackson. This funding has not made it to the communities that need it most and must be prioritized to those communities that are experiencing racially driven environmental injustice to ensure the availability of clean water to everyone. The water crisis in Flint, MI introduced the country to what Black communities have known for years about the under investment in water infrastructure in their neighborhoods. But this phenomenon isn’t isolated to communities in certain parts of the country, it’s present everywhere. 

Some funding has been made available, but it is only a portion of what is needed to truly have high-functioning clean water supplies for every community. More than a trillion dollars needs to be invested in infrastructure to make this happen by 2030. 

This is a shared responsibility between the local, state, and federal governments and this investment must also improve our water infrastructure’s resilience to the changes in weather due to the climate crisis. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said it best, “we’ve had hotter summers, colder winters and more precipitation each year and it’s taking a toll on our infrastructure. And so we need the support to not only create sustainability and equity in our system, but to also weatherize our system.”  We can not just build back to what it should have been, it must be built to what is needed for these communities to be resilient when impacted by climate change. American Rivers has called on the Biden Administration to take emergency climate actions in support of clean water supplies for healthy rivers and communities. These actions need to be initiated now. We cannot wait. Learn more.

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