HPNM

Former British Politician Criticizes Media’s Framing of Jackson Water Crisis

‘An Absurd Narrative Mississippians Can See for
Themselves’

This article was originally published in The Epoch Times on Oct. 30, 2022.

As the finger-pointing over what caused the summer water crisis continues in Jackson,
Mississippi, a proponent of the free market and individual liberty examines how local
and national media coverage concocted two culprits—racism and climate change—to fit
a narrative disparaging to the state while downplaying what he said is the true cause:
incompetence.

For Douglas Carswell, President & CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy
(MCPP)—a non-profit organization that advocates for low taxes, light regulation, higher
standards in education, and American exceptionalism—the divide between the media’s
narrative and what the people of Jackson were seeing with their own eyes became a significant wake-up call for the state capital.

“Any time something goes wrong in Mississippi, media will attribute it to events that happened 50 to 150 years ago to say that it’s all a consequence of white racism,” Carswell told The Epoch Times. “It’s an off-the-shelf template that reporters dust off whenever Mississippi comes up, but I think the water crisis was a tipping point for that narrative because ordinary Mississippians could see for themselves how ridiculous it really was.”

National and local media platforms blamed the water crisis on systematic racism within the majority-black city. Some reports got it entirely wrong by flat-out stating that the city had run out of water because of climate change, while, as Carswell pointed out, Jackson has one of the largest reservoirs in the southern United States.

“The Romans managed to master the technology of putting water into pipes to supply a
city with fresh water 2,000 years ago,” Carswell said. “There’s no excuse for Jackson
not to master that technology today. It’s incompetence, and the people of Jackson can
see that.”

While Carswell says the city government’s mismanagement is transparent, the
Mississippi chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP) has alleged that Republican Gov. Tate Reeves disinvested funds from Jackson
that could have gone to fix the problem.

The NAACP called on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently formed
Oce of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights to investigate the matter,
stating in its letter to Reeves, “We have been in keen observance of the long history of
Jackson getting less than its fair share of public funding from the Mississippi state
budget and at times, being denied of any funding at all when it was deserved.”

The NAACP filed a complaint with the EPA under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, solidifying the allegation that the water crisis was caused by racial
discrimination.

The Oce of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights didn’t immediately
respond to a request for comment on the investigation.

On Oct. 17, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who serves as chair of the Committee on
Homeland Security and chair of the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6
Attack, launched his own investigation into the state’s spending, asking Reeves for data
on how it plans to distribute American Rescue Plan Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure
Law funding.

President Joe Biden pledged millions to combat “structural racism,” which has led to
equity, diversity, and inclusion departments cropping up in government agencies.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba stated in a city press release, “We know that
the condition of Jackson’s water system didn’t happen overnight but is due to decades
of disinvestment in the city’s infrastructure.”

However, there are many within Jackson who have been watching this play out for
years and point to the city government’s own underinvestment in its water
infrastructure, which has led to 150,000 citizens without potable water.

According to Reeves in an Oct. 17 press release, “Throughout this emergency, we have
had to procure chemicals, workers, and materials for the city routinely because they
were incapable of doing so.”

Reeves added that the state has “poured millions of dollars from taxpayers of every
county into this effort to rescue the city from a crisis of incompetence.”

On Oct. 20, during a traditional turkey pardoning ceremony to support a campaign
designed to raise money for families in need for Thanksgiving, Reeves answered (the
discussion beginning at 14:00) a question from a reporter about the problems with the
city’s water system.

“The mayor has gone on national TV and blamed that on a lot of things,” Reeves said.
“But what we have proven over the last 52 days is the water struggles in Jackson were
specific to the incompetence of this administration.”

The state stepped in on Aug. 29, Reeves said, and set up a unified command structure,
naming both the Department of Health and the Mississippi Emergency Management
Agency as leads.

Within 72 hours, Jackson’s water was restored, Reeves said, and the boiled water notice
was lifted 15 days later.

“Running water systems isn’t that challenging,” Reeves said.

Out of his 19 years in office, with over 1,100 water systems in the state, Reeves said this
has been the only time he’s had to sign an emergency proclamation to ensure that
water was delivered to the city.

‘Grotesque Incompetence’

Carswell said much of the problem stemmed from a simple failure to bill its citizens.

“In 2017, Jackson’s water billing system collected $61 million in revenue, and the
operating costs of the city’s water system were about $54 million,” Carswell said. “That
left a healthy surplus that competent management might have allocated to meet
maintenance costs.”

In 2022, the amount of revenue collected is likely to be closer to $40 million, Carswell
said, “far below running costs.”

“Not only is there no surplus to go toward maintenance, but there does also not seem
to have been much maintenance even when there was a surplus,” Carswell said. “How
on earth does a city water authority manage to lose almost a third of its revenue in the
space of five years?”

In any given city, water is what Carswell called a “cash cow” because it has a captive
market.

“Citizens are billed, and they have to give the city government a check,” Carswell
explained. “What Jackson did is it monstrously failed to invoice people.”

Several years ago, the city government contracted with an engineering firm to set up a
new billing system, Carswell said, which ended in the firm being sued for $89 million,
leaving consequentially more money to be spent on city attorneys than on improving
the city’s water system.

“If a private business fails to invoice a third of its customers, it will go bankrupt,”
Carswell said. “Here we are in Jackson with the authorities failing to generate a third of
its revenue because they couldn’t get their act together and issue invoices.”
In addition to a failure to invoice, the city failed to have qualified personnel running
the water facilities, he said.

“The state repeatedly offered to help, and those offers were ignored,” Carswell added.
“Eventually, things got so bad that the state had to step in and pick up the cost of half of
it and fix things.”

After the federal and state governments stepped in, the total bill came to less than
$200,000, he said.

“It was a minuscule amount of money to fix a problem that was overwhelmingly
caused by grotesque incompetence among civic leaders in Jackson,” Carswell said.

The city of Jackson didn’t reply to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.

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