Residents of Jackson, Mississippi, still don’t have widespread access to clean drinking water as of Sunday, after massive rains and river flooding late last month worsened existing infrastructure problems at one of the two treatment plants in the majority-Black city.
Some officials said Saturday that service has been restored to most customers, but the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned on Sunday that it’s still “too early” to tell when the city will have widespread clean drinking water again.
“As you said, there has been a lot of infrastructure damage that has been present for many years,” Deanne Criswell told Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Where we are focused right now from FEMA is being able to make sure that we can provide and support the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency with bringing in safe drinking water, bottled water, supporting their operations ― but more importantly, bringing in our federal partners that can really understand what it’s going to take to bring this plant back to full operational capacity,” she said.
Criswell said she visited Jackson on Friday with Mitch Landrieu, the White House’s infrastructure director. The FEMA director spoke with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers about the assessments they’re conducting and what it’s going to take to make clean drinking water widely available to the community. The “boil water” notice is still in place due to the water treatment facility’s fragile state.
“So it’s going to happen in phases, right? The focus right now is making sure we can get bottled water out. But also, we’re providing temporary measures to help increase the water pressure, so people can at least flush their toilets and use the faucets,” Criswell said. “The longer term and the mid-term about how long it’s going to take to actually make it safe to drink ― I think that we have a lot more to learn about what it’s going to take to get that plant up and running.”
The city of about 150,000 does not have the finances to fix its water crisis, a result of the tax base eroding as the population decreased amid white flight that began a few years after public schools integrated in the 1970s. Today, Jackson is more than 80% Black and 25% poor ― which means the water crisis has disproportionately affected low-income and Black residents and businesses.
Jackson’s Democratic mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, has long blamed the city’s crumbling infrastructure on climate change and inaction from the state legislature ― a mostly white, conservative body. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has blamed the problems on mismanagement by the city government.
But on Sunday, neither Criswell nor Lumumba chose to directly answer questions about who exactly is to blame for the water crisis facing the city. Instead, they emphasized that the focus right now should be on coming together to ensure Jackson residents have the access to clean water they need.
“I have to be optimistic. I have to make certain that we don’t let anybody off the hook and we continue to see this into its conclusion,” Lumumba told Martha Raddatz on ABC’s “This Week.” “And its conclusion won’t be even after water is restored this week and even after the ‘boil water’ notice is lifted.”
“Its conclusion won’t take place until we can look the residents of Jackson in the face and say, you know, we have a greater sense of reliability, that we believe in this system, and we believe in the equity of this system and that certain portions of our city won’t be disproportionately affected by this, week in and week out,” he said.