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Project February 22, 2023

Jackson's Water System Is Broken by Design

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The water infrastructure of Jackson, Mississippi—a city that is 83 percent Black—has been underfunded and crumbling for decades. Now the intensifying impacts of a changing climate are delivering a final blow. Whether in New Orleans in 2005, Flint in 2014, or Jackson today, Black Americans are disproportionately affected by these system failures.

As Abre’ Conner, the NAACP’s director of environmental and climate justice, put it: “The effect of climate change on Black people has finally come into national focus, because Black people experience the most horrific impacts from historic disinvestment from communities.”

While water infrastructure may be deteriorating in cities across the country, not all cities fare the same. Jackson suffers more because it has been left to the mercy of a conservative state leadership in Mississippi. Many Jackson residents see the current state of disinvestment as an outgrowth of the state's history of white supremacy.

Indeed, over the last several decades, as Mississippi’s capital turned Black—first in its demographics and then in its political leadership, tensions between the state and its capital boiled over into hostility and sabotage. State-level leaders have said publicly that the people of Jackson cannot govern themselves, and have blocked resources needed to upkeep and repair its water infrastructure. Now Republicans have introduced a bill in the Mississippi legislature that aims to take ownership of the water system from the city and give it to the state.

Residents and organizers in Jackson have come together again and again to support each other through water crises. Public outcry inside and outside Jackson has brought forth much needed federal intervention and resources to repair Jackson's ailing system, and may provide a launching pad for more movements across the country.

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