JACKSON, Miss. — The burden of Jackson’s latest water crisis has fallen on the shoulders of this city’s youngest and most vulnerable residents.
The capital city is without a reliable water supply because of flooding, and it’s not clear when residents will be able to expect safe running water.
Lorene Terrell, 59, could only shake her head Tuesday at the sight of her 11-year-old granddaughter struggling to carry home bottled water, during a time when she otherwise would have been in a classroom.
Schools in Jackson, Mississippi’s capital and largest city, have shifted to virtual learning in light of the crisis.
“They need to be at school, instead of here with me because they’re just playing,” Terrell said, as her granddaughter and grandson, 5, swapped their schools books for firsthand lessons about failed infrastructure.
Terrell can’t grasp how she pays a monthly water bill only to be plagued by constant disruptions.
“It shouldn’t be like this,” she said.
At Jackson’s only Walmart, Namiah Thomas, scanned the thinning options of bottled water on the shelves.
Much of what remained was flavored or sparkling. Jackson had been under a boiled water notice for a month when Monday’s state of emergency was announced, further straining supplies.
Thomas said she initially lost water pressure in her West Jackson neighborhood Monday, but that the flow has since improved.
The restoration gave her little confidence. She suspected the brown water coming out of her faucets Tuesday morning was contaminated.
“If you fill up your tub and your tub’s white, you’d be able to see the actual color of the water,” she said of the water coming out of the spout. “I wouldn’t touch it.”
Like thousands of residents, Thomas was affected by a 2021 cold snap that left parts of the city without reliable water for weeks. Obtaining clean water to get through daily activities, she said, has grown more costly since.
“It seems like the more crises we have in Jackson with the water, the more the prices go up,” Thomas said.
She managed to get by with her fiancé during the 2021 water shortage, but now she has a 1-year-old and 4-month-old to worry about.
“She’s so little. I just can’t be without,” Thomas said. “It’s essential; everyone needs water.”
The city of 150,000 residents, nearly 83% of them Black, has long been plagued by infrastructure issues that have made clean, reliable water a challenge.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba declared a water system emergency Monday evening because of complications from the Pearl River flooding. He said issues at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant resulted in low or no water pressure for many residents.
Gov. Tate Reeves followed the city’s announcement with his own declaration of a state of emergency Tuesday. And Tuesday night, President Joe Biden approved Mississippi’s emergency declaration request.
Lumumba said residents know this latest emergency is a drop in the bucket, compared to the years of water struggles.
“The city of Jackson, even when we’re not under a boil water notice, even when we’re not contending, at that present moment, with low pressure, we are in a constant state of emergency,” he said Tuesday.