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Preventing Next Water Crisis: Mississippi Should Rebuild Infrastructure with Resident Input

For most Americans, clean drinking water is something we take for granted. When our drinking-water systems are working well, we do not give them much thought. It is when things go wrong that we realize that safe drinking water, wastewater treatment, and protection from flooding are critical to our health, our livelihoods and our communities.

On Aug. 29, 2022, in Jackson Miss., the water system went sideways. After heavy rain and flooding, the city’s main pumping station collapsed, leaving 160,000 residents without access to clean drinking water. The water problems in Jackson that made national headlines in recent weeks have been simmering for decades. In 2012, the City of Jackson signed a consent decree with the EPA over repeated violations of the Clean Water Act.

More recently, the City issued yet another notice informing residents of its failure to meet federal drinking-water standards for lead, a potent neurotoxin with many negative consequences on human health, especially in children and pregnant women.

While Jackson’s water-infrastructure crisis has deservedly received national and global attention, the capital city is not alone. Many marginalized rural areas in Mississippi also have failing water systems, yet many news outlets largely ignore them. In 2015, the EPA estimated that the state needs $4.8 billion over 20 years to fund drinking-water infrastructure. (Keep in mind, that estimate is seven years old and underestimates the total cost in today’s dollars.)

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2021 Infrastructure Report Card finds that, “[m]uch of the state’s current drinking water infrastructure is beyond or nearing the end of its design life, with older systems losing as much as 30-50% of their treated water to leaks and breaks.” The same report gives Mississippi a grade of “D” for its drinking-water infrastructure and another “D” for its wastewater infrastructure. Mississippi’s infrastructure is failing to meet many residents’ most basic needs.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, pictured here at a press conference with Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba on Sept. 7, 2022, requested a federal declaration on Sept. 12, 2022, that would allow Jackson businesses dealing with the capital city’s water crisis to receive

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