Water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, hits boiling point

State capital is without safe drinking water for ‘unknown period of time’

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When Vidhi Bamzai turns on the taps in her home in Jackson, Mississippi, water comes out — but it is discoloured and not safe to drink.

But for now at least, Ms Bamzai considers herself lucky.

“I filled up my tub yesterday and it had a little bit of a greenish tinge to it which was concerning, but we do have water where I live,” she said.

“That's not the case for a lot of people in Jackson.”

Flooding has inundated the city’s water infrastructure, leaving up to 180,000 people in the state capital without clean drinking water for the “foreseeable future".

The water that comes out of Vidhi Bamzai's taps in Jackson, Mississippi, is tinged green. Photo: Vidhi Bamzai

On Tuesday, Mississippi’s Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency in Jackson as the city tackles a water crisis that many say was years in the making as ageing water infrastructure was neglected.

For the past 34 days, Jackson has been under a metropolis-wide "boil water" advisory, something residents say they have grown accustomed to.

“We get boil water notices a lot in Jackson,” Ms Bamzai, 32, told The National. “We're kind of numb to it.”

The crisis comes after residents of Flint, Michigan, had their drinking water contaminated with lead in 2014-2015 when the city switched water sources.

The scandal still is wreaking havoc on the lives of those affected, with more than 100,000 people exposed to raised lead levels. The city continues to deal with water quality issues to this day.

LeeAnne Walters of Flint, Michigan, shows water samples from her home in 2015. AP

Exhausted from repeatedly having to stock up on bottled water, Ms Bamzai recently installed a filtration system in her kitchen, which means she can have drinkable water despite the advisory.

“I installed it last week expecting for this boil water notice to continue but now I don't even know if I'm gonna have water next week,” she said.

For now, Ms Bamzai is still using the water to bathe, but as the crisis continues and the colour of her water changes, she is beginning to wonder when she will have to stop it.

“I am starting to get a little concerned about this water on my skin and my hair,” she said,

Greg Daniels, who installed Ms Bamzai’s water-filtration system, said the amount of sediment caught by such devices in Jackson was startling.

“What I see all year around is just some pretty filthy water coming out of the tap,” Mr Daniels told The National.

The state is struggling to get bottled water to residents.

“Replacing our largest city's infrastructure of running water with human distribution is a massively complicated logistical task,” Mr Reeves said.

The crisis has forced some residents to travel outside county lines to try to stock up on water.

“You cannot just drive next door to access these things because the entire city has no water,” said Lorena Quiroz, who travels several kilometres outside Jackson to pick up drinkable water.

The crisis has even affected some medical institutions.

Air conditioning at the Jackson Medical Mall was not functioning properly "because the water pressure feeding its chillers is too low", the University of Mississippi Medical Centre said.

Some residents of Jackson, a predominantly black city, say they cannot help but think the city’s water crisis is a product of racial injustice.

“We don't see these problems in majority-white suburban, upper class parts of Mississippi,” said Maisie Brown, 20, a community organiser.

In 2021, the city asked the state for $47 million for water and sewer repairs but they only received $3m.

Ms Brown feels the state’s Republican leadership has left the city in a tough position and now the people of Jackson are suffering the consequences.

Updated: August 31, 2022, 8:40 PM