Frozen woes, failing infrastructure propels Jackson into week three without water
By DeAnna Tisdale Johnson
Jackson Advocate Publisher
Snow days at home. White covered lawns. Slipping, slid-ing, and sledding on ice. What started off as a winter wonder-land quickly became a dangerous terrain that people are still trying to weather. The winter storm that hit Mississippi on Valentine’s Day left people without lights and heat for weeks and has left many Jacksonians, in particular, without running water even now.
Jackson’s situation, though not as fatal, can be comparable to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans by this association: the infrastructure of the levies was crumbling be-fore the storm hit and the hurricane exposed that weakness and neglect to deadly effects; in Jackson, the 100-year-old water infrastructure has not aged well, and through years of the same neglect, it has weakened even further in the wake of this winter storm, leaving hundreds without any water for 19 days and counting.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has been visibly “passionate” about trying to meet the needs of the people with limited resources. Daily brieﬁngs by the mayor and the COJ Public Works Director, Dr. Charles Williams, and correspondence from the communications team at the city, have given us information about the progress of the city’s efforts to restore us back to full capacity, which would be a return to bi-weekly boil water notices we’ve had for the past few years instead of the continuous boil water notices. Nonetheless, at least, every home would have water to bathe, cook, and take care of necessities.
The latest update notes some setbacks at the OB Curtis Water Treatment Plant.
On March 3, 2021, “some setbacks were experienced at the OB Curtis WTP. Raw water screens were not operating properly as a result of debris blocking the flow of water. A portion of the plant had to be shut down in order to allow outside contractors to clean out the debris and blockage. In that process, an electrical issue was found and addressed.
“The raw water screens are now functioning, the plant is now back online, and water is flowing again. Now, they just need to build pressure back up and recoup the lost gains from earlier this week.
“As a result of March 3rd’s setback, it is likely that many residents who had seen their water restored, are now again experiencing low or no water pressure. However, they should see it restored again once pressure is built back up in the system. It is currently estimated that 25% of the 43K surface water connections are possibly experiencing low or now water pressure.”
However, these incremental successes seem to do little to comfort the citizens still unable to meet daily needs. Kehinde Gaynor, owner of Exsail, LLC, and son-in-law to Bishop Ronnie Crudup of New Horizon Church International, has been out volunteer-ing and helping other citizens stock up on some drinkable and potable water while simultaneously and periodically booking hotel rooms for his family of five just so they can take showers.
Visibly frustrated, Gaynor took to Facebook to express his grievances over the city’s current situation. “I mean to say I’m frustrated is the least to say. It’s Day 18 [March 3]. Still, no water. I thought I had water after the pressure came back a little bit, but then it went back out. This is crazy… do I have to take my family out of the city of Jackson? Should I have to move just so I can have a basic way of life?” Gaynor faults the state government for not doing more. “It’s actually criminal what they’re allowing to hap-pen. This is unsafe, unsanitary water. People should not be living in these conditions.”
Along with Gaynor, some have asked why the state government has not stepped in to do more for the capital city through this crisis. While Governor Tate Reeves finally called in the National Guard to provide citizens with clean water, that has only put a band-aid on a $2 billion problem. Mayor Lumumba states that he has to call the governor’s chief of staff to get in contact with him. In an interview with the Mississippi Free Press, Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann alludes that no work has been done on the Jackson water infrastructure since before the city elected its first Black mayor. The mounting disparities on a failing city are reminiscent of a Jenga tower threatening to tip over.
Nonetheless, there is still hope. A light in the darkness of this immediate situation unveils itself in the form of the MS Rapid Response & Relief Coalition – a collective of grassroots and community organizations within the city of Jackson. They include the People’s Advocacy Institute, MS Move, Working Together Jackson, MS Votes, Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, MS Poor People’s Campaign, and Black Youth Project 100.
Calandra Davis, an organizer with Black Youth Project 100, and various organizers taking part in this coalition, have helped over 1,000 citizens who’ve called their hotline over the past few weeks. Initially, Davis notes that the calls coming in were from those who didn’t have lights or water. Now that the situation is leaving people in dire straits for weeks on end; elderly people who can no longer take their medicine, or find the strength and energy to continue boiling water for daily activities like brushing their teeth, are calling the hotline.
The coalition has paid for hotel rooms for hundreds of families and provided groceries for citizens as well. Davis also notes that this hardship is coupled with those who have been unable to work during this time. “A lot of folks who are hourly workers lost a week’s worth of wages during the ice storm. That was an unexpected loss while we’re already in the middle of an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus. The aftermath with this is that people, especially Jacksonians, will be in a double economic crisis,” says Davis.
The coalition is seeking a two-pronged approach as next steps to the crises that Jacksonians are faced with. They plan to create policies and make demands to the city and state to implement them. “We need the state to step up and ensure that the capital city has the resources necessary to rebuild the infrastructure,” Davis expresses. On the grass-roots level, the coalition will gather materials to construct emergency preparedness kits and will seek to build more wells in communities around Jackson so that each area can draw water from them if needed.
For help during this time, call (601) 421-0882.