‘A Multitude of Risks and Hazards’

UMD Expert: Jackson Water Crisis Latest Example of Marginalized Communities Bearing Brunt of Neglected Infrastructure

For 40 days, residents of Jackson, Miss., had to boil water to brush their teeth, cook dinner or bathe after the city’s largest treatment plant failed. Schools in the state capital had to steer children away from unusable toilets or fountains, people lined up for 12 million bottles of donated water, and some hospitals had to pay to bring in tankers.

In a community where heavy rains had repeatedly overwhelmed the aging municipal water utility, none of these measures was a surprise. But the length of the burden on some 160,000 residents as well as businesses revealed just how fragile and neglected the infrastructure is. Last week, Gov. Tate Reeves’ announcement that the city’s boil-water advisory had been lifted came with a warning: “I do believe it is very important that we set expectations up front. While we have restored water quality, the system is still imperfect,” he said.

JPB Fellow Marccus Hendricks, an associate professor in the University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation who focuses on storm water infrastructure, noted similar crises in cities that are majority Black, including Flint, Mich., or even the recent E. coli outbreak in West Baltimore. “We as a nation are experiencing infrastructure crisis, but chances are marginalized populations bear the brunt of that need,” he said. Read more.