Thousands of people in Jackson, Mississippi, are still without immediate, safe drinking water and are being forced to lug gallons of water from distribution sites to their homes just to flush the toilet.
The crisis has been going on for three weeks after a winter storm passed through the area and damaged the city’s water treatment plant. While many residents in the higher elevation are still unable to shower or wash dishes due to low pressure in faucets, about 160,000 people in other areas of the city said the water was being restored, USA Today reported.
Here are five things to know about the crisis:
1. The crisis was caused by damage to the city's water treatment plant
The city has been devastated since Feb. 16 when record-low temperatures froze machinery at its water treatment plant, causing more than a hundred water main breaks and leaks, according to Truthout. Due to the damage, the plants were unable to maintain adequate water pressure.
"I know residents are trying to understand this process and be patient — they just want to see water," Mayor Chokwe Lumumba said at a press conference, CBS News reported. "I think it's important to start with the understanding that what we have faced and what we have seen as a result of the winter storm, water treatment facilities are not meant to shut down at the level that we experienced."
The mayor said the city's water issue "has gone decades without being addressed sufficiently." According to Lumumba, Jackson is an "aging city with an aging budget," boasting about a $300 million annual budget and "more than likely, a more than $2 billion issue with our infrastructure."
A week earlier, the mayor said misinformation has been spreading about relief efforts following the storm and that the devastation is "an act of God."
"It was an act of God, extreme weather, that sent old systems into havoc and put our residents in trauma," he said. "In moments of crisis, the first casualty is trust, which is why I'm calling up not only the media but our council people."
The city said at least 70 of the treatment plants had been repaired last week. But residents are still waiting hours in lines to get water bottles or non-potable water for flushing toilets. The National Guard has also been assisting in water distribution.
2. The city is seeking $47 million from the state to improve water infrastructure
According to an email obtained by media outlets, Lumumba wrote a letter to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on March 3, requesting about $47 million in emergency funding from the state and the federal government. In the letter to Reeves, Lumumba said, "extreme weather conditions that occurred severely compromised" the city's "ability to produce and distribute water."
The mayor said the weather conditions "emphasized the critical need for immediate repairs and improvement to (the) water distribution system." He added that funding would be used to improve the water plants and distribution lines, CNN reported.
Public Works Director Charles Williams said the city infrastructure requires more funding sources to sustain improvements in the future regardless of whether the state approves the request.
"Even if we were to get the $47 million, that's not going to solve all the problems we have," Williams said. "We have a bunch more problems, and you're gonna have to find a steady revenue in order to satisfy them."
3. Residents are required to still boil their water
Testing revealed that the water is still unsafe to drink, prompting the city to remain under a boil notice. But Williams said the notice could be lifted for some areas of the city on Thursday after water tanks fill up and sampling takes place.
More than 300,000 customers were restricted to boil water advisories in the days after the storm, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. The boil water advisories, which were issued in 35 counties statewide, were required because of systems losing water pressure from the storm directly or due to power outages caused by the winter weather systems, USA Today reported.
4. The city of Jackson has a history of water crises
Jackson residents have grappled with service issues and lead pollution crises in the past. In 2016, toxins were found in some of the drinking water in the city, NBC News reported. According to water samples taken at the time, 13 out of 58 homes tested at a level that calls for action.
The state ordered the city to fix its corroding water pipes and prevent leaching lead into the system. Jackson officials downplayed the concern, saying their water had not been deemed unsafe and that recommendations for pregnant women and children were issued out of an abundance of caution.
5. The devastation highlights issues in inequality
Activists and residents in the community said the city doesn't get funding and support because Black people make up 80% percent of the population. One of the concerned community leaders is Calandra Davis, a policy analyst at Hope Policy Institute and organizer with the social justice organization Black Youth Project 100. Davis said the lowest-income Black communities in the south and west are facing the worst effects of the water crisis.
The analyst said people are struggling because they have medical conditions that require electronic devices or water access while dozens more were unable to save their groceries from spoiling when their power went out.
According to Donna Ladd, editor of the Jackson Free Press and Mississippi Free Press, Jackson's "white supremacist" leadership in previous decades has set up the city for failure.
“The fact that low-income Jacksonians are living amid the stench of toilets that won’t flush is a direct legacy of white-supremacist thinking at the state level, not the failure of a few bill collectors in the city to collect on enough delinquent customers.” Ladd wrote in an article for MSNBC. “Whether those who engage in that thinking have bothered to face that history or not, it is the state of Mississippi’s role to help fix this problem."