Residents of Jackson, Mississippi have been facing an ongoing water crisis. Against the backdrop of mounting tensions between local and state officials and a history of neglect from the state, the need for transparency around how state officials are addressing the crisis is critical. Residents of Jackson—with a population of 160,000, 82% of whom are Black—received a boil water notice on July 29, 2022, after flooding caused the failure of a water treatment plant, and after a month without clean water, Jackson was left entirely without running water.
The July water system failure is unfortunately just the latest in a stream of dire problems that the city has faced after entering a botched 2010 contract with Siemens Inc. to fix the water system, leading to Siemens being sued by the city in 2019 and again in a class action lawsuit just last Friday. After back to back storms in February of 2021, many Jacksonians lost running water and roughly 43,000 people’s taps stayed dry for at least two weeks, with the city still telling residents, a month later, to continue boiling their water. State officials repeatedly put the onus of crisis control on the city, even as the Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba called for state and federal appropriations to help the city address the crisis.
After failing to work with the city during previous water crises in Jackson, Governor Tate Reeves has taken a more public interest in this latest one—but questions remain about tangible actions he took at the start of the crisis and the extent of his collaboration with city officials like Lumumba. For example, Reeves held a press conference on August 22, 2022 concerning the water shortage, but Lumumba had reportedly not been invited, nor had the two spoken about the crisis. Reeves’ failure to communicate with local officials raises questions about whether his public concern is backed by actual movement of state or federal resources.
CREW has requested records of any communication Reeves has had with Lumumba, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency officials or any federal office or agency concerning Jackson. CREW also requests Reeves’ records on discussions about allocating funding to Jackson following the July crisis. CREW also seeks Reeves’ communications about the Siemens contract and 2019 lawsuit.
Failures to address water and other infrastructure problems in predominantly Black cities and neighborhoods are part of a devastatingly familiar pattern of neglect and environmental racism, as cities like Flint and Benton Harbor, Michigan know all too well. As the crisis continues to play out in Jackson, disrupting every aspect of daily life, including causing the closure of schools and businesses, it is vital that residents and state legislators who have called on Reeves to resolve the crisis know the extent that he has taken steps to do just that. In mid-September, Reeves called for, and was granted, federal resources from Biden, and the public deserves to know what else Reeves has done to address the crisis and the extent that state level officials have willfully neglected Jackson.