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Water crisis in Jackson Mississippi shows how climate change threatens drinking water

The lack of clean water in a majority Black city highlights the need for climate justice.

When we think of the relationship between climate change and water, we might be quick to imagine larger phenomena, like major droughts or sea level rise.

Images of the low levels of Lake Mead, the United States largest water reservoir,  or the catastrophic and deadly drought spurring famine in the Horn of Africa — both due largely to climate change — might come to mind.  

But climate change is also responsible for many of the major infrastructure failures that put clean drinking water at risk. As climate change continues to drive unprecedented weather events such as flash flooding, extreme heat, unprecedented freezes — just to name a few — the United States' already struggling water infrastructure is crumbling under the pressure.  

Just last month, in Jackson, Mississippi — the state's largest city and state capital — 150,000 people lost access to clean drinking water, after a period of historic rainfall flooded Mississippi's Pearl River and Ross R. Barnett Reservoir.

A lack of water pressure left many city residents without running water in their homes for up to a week — literally unable to flush the toilet. Once water pressure was restored, the city maintained a boil advisory which was lifted only just last week, on September 15, after over a month.

 The EPA is investigating Jackson, Mississippi's water crisis.

Locals say the water is brown and green. pic.twitter.com/mRKLxd0Mvy— AJ+ (@ajplus) September 13, 2022 

The primary cause: flooding from intense rains. The flood waters contained higher levels of contamination than what is typical, overwhelming the system. Additionally, the cities largest water treatment plant was operating with broken pumps and generally in disrepair.

The Jackson water crisis highlights how climate-fueled weather will continue to have the most impact on our infrastructure in oppressed communities that already face systemic erasure and divestment.

Jackson Mississippi is a majority-Black city, with a traceable history of the impacts of such disinvestment. While this crisis was particularly egregious, the residents of Jackson are no strangers to crises, like boil advisories or poor water quality.

On Friday, Jackson residents filed a class action lawsuit against the city and engineering firm for “neglect, mismanagement, and maintenance failure.” In the lawsuit residents note: “Access to clean, poison-free water is a fundamental human right.” 

The crisis in Jackson is one of many water crises around the United States, and globally, that could have been avoided,  had communities had access to updated and climate-resilient infrastructure. Climate justice and sustainable investment in communities is directly tied to a community’s safety and wellbeing.

— Abbie Veitch

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