The 150,000 residents of Jackson, Mississippi have running water back to their homes and businesses after the city’s public water and sewer system collapsed following flooding in the end of August. However, the water remains undrinkable and the city remains under a boil water advisory, in place since July, before the current crisis hit.
Although authorities reported that the water pressure had normalized, many Jackson residents reported very low water pressure and discolored water coming from their faucets. On Friday, Molly Minta, journalist for mississippi today, recorded herself turning on the tap at her home in Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood, to reveal an ongoing social crime: brown water. The video was posted on Twitter and was widely shared, garnering over 12.5 million views.
Despite the lack of clean water, beginning Friday, Jackson Public Schools resumed in-person learning, doubling the risk for students amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Last week Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said: ‘This water supply system has broken down over several years and it would be inaccurate to say it’s totally fixed in less than a week’ , continuing: “There may be more bad days in the future. We have, however, reached a place where the people of Jackson can be sure that water will come out of the faucet, toilets can be flushed and fires can be put out.
On Tuesday, Democratic Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said there was “some optimism” about taking water samples from the city.
In order for the water to be declared safe and the boil water advisory to be dropped, two days of successful testing are required for Jackson health officials to issue a declaration allowing the water to be consumed. But the emergency repairs are temporary, given the system’s aging infrastructure that could malfunction at any time, as it did during the colossal winter freeze of 2021, and again this year.
As Jackson residents grow increasingly frustrated with the repeated failure of basic infrastructure, in conjunction with soaring interest rates, rising consumer goods prices and stagnating wages, and the abandoning public health efforts to fight COVID-19, Republicans and Democrats are considering privatizing Jackson’s water system.
“Privatization is on the table,” Governor Reeves said last week. Mayor Lumumba, alongside the possibility of raising the sales tax on city residents to pay for repairs, also considered hiring private contractors to operate and maintain the water system. Subcontractors from the giant Veolia were already recruited in 2017 to manage three wastewater treatment plants in the city at a cost of $10.9 million per year.
The very consideration of privatization is an attack on the working class and the right to the basic necessities of life. In 2012, a $90 million deal was signed by then-Democratic Mayor Harvey Johnson with global conglomerate Siemens to upgrade the city’s water and sewer systems, followed by the implementation of an automated billing system which failed, resulting in $43 million in unpaid bills. water bills.
With millions of dollars in unpaid bills and fees, the city’s water funds were depleted. A legal settlement in 2020 recovered the $90 million from Siemens, but that money was quickly spent without any improvements to the water system. Lumumba said it would take more than $1 billion to properly address the city’s dilapidated water infrastructure.
Last week, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, appointed by President Joe Biden, said Jackson could be eligible for tens of millions in loans from the US government. However, Regan went on to say, “we need to see a plan that shows how these resources will be spent and what they will be spent on,” erasing any sense of urgency and effectively leaving residents to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, the Democratic and Republican parties approved and delivered $60 billion worth of ammunition and weapons, approved for delivery to Ukraine in a few months, in order to force Russia into submission.
On August 29, Mayor Lumumba pledged to appoint “a large-scale committee of individuals who work for the execution and production of [a] plan.” In an interview with the Guardian, former mayor Harvey Johnson, apologizing for the inaction of his Democratic successor, said a properly funded plan could take decades to execute. “I think if you’re talking about the water system, obviously you need a plan that outlines what’s needed to make improvements to the system. And usually it’s over a period of 20 years. He continued, “I think it’s kind of lost in the whole discussion: none of this is happening in a short period of time.”
Workers at Jackson’s water and wastewater treatment facilities must form rank-and-file committees, independent of corporate parties, to oversee implementation of a plan to ensure every resident has access to clean water drinking without delay and free of charge. Democrats have had decades to demand changes to the city’s infrastructure and yet they have done nothing. Republicans and Democrats fight to maintain the subordination of socio-economic life to private profit at the expense of the health and safety of the working class.