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TFK Explains: The Jackson Water Crisis

HERE TO HELP Aelicia Hodge helps hand out bottled water in Jackson, Mississippi, on August 31. BRAD VEST—GETTY IMAGES

On September 15, residents of Jackson, Mississippi, were told that the city’s tap water was safe to drink. For nearly seven weeks, they’d had to boil it before using it. Here’s what to know about the crisis.

Why has Jackson been without safe drinking water?

Trouble started in late July. Heavy rain in August made it worse. Water overran the city’s treatment plants. It damaged water pumps. That left homes and businesses without enough water pressure. When that happens, untreated water can leak into old pipes.

How long has unsafe drinking water been a problem?

Jackson has struggled with access to safe water for decades. The United States Environmental Protection Agency warned Jackson that its water system needed work. That happened in the 1970s and in 2020. In 2021, the city sent out frequent boil-water notices. Residents boiled tap water before using it for drinking, washing dishes, or brushing their teeth.

Why has Jackson’s water system been neglected?

Jackson can’t afford to fix it. The city’s population has declined since the 1980s. So Jackson doesn’t collect enough money in taxes. Some say Mississippi hasn’t invested enough in the city. Jackson is home to 150,000 people. About 25% of its residents live in poverty.

What is being done?

Mississippi governor Tate Reeves says clean water has been restored. It was done with a rented emergency pump, he said. The boil-water notice has been lifted. But officials say children and people who are pregnant should stick to bottled or filtered water.

What happens next?

President Joe Biden plans to direct more federal money toward improving Jackson’s water system. Meanwhile, it is still being repaired. “We cannot perfectly predict what may go wrong with such a broken system in the future,” Governor Reeves says.

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