FOCUS: Jackson Water • Abortion • 2022 Elections •  LGBTQ • ImmigrationCOVID-19 •  Race & Racism • Food SecurityVoting • Policing • Prisons • JFP Acquisition

drop of water hanging from faucet
MFP Co-founder and Publisher Kimberly Griffin thinks back to February 2021 in Jackson, Miss., when a winter freeze exposed the city's crumbling infrastructure, leaving citizens without drinkable water for 24 days. Photo by Mukesh Sharma on Unsplash

Crisis Reporting: Covering a Systemic Water Failure and a Blame Game In Our Home State

“Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink” is a play on words from the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” This doesn’t actually apply to the water crisis in our capital city, but it resounded in my head for the weeks we were without drinking water following a devastating winter storm that hit the capital city in February.

Civil rights martyr hero Medgar Evers is supposed to have said, “I don’t know if I’m going to Heaven or Hell, but I’m going from Jackson.” My take on it is, “Jackson born, bred and one day Jackson dead.” I’ve never longed for the suburbs. I love my little southern city with all its problems and potholes. That love was certainly tested through the water crisis, as the city still remains on the heels of our latest crisis. The freeze that paralyzed our capital city is becoming all too common as we reckon with our environmental carelessness and hubris.  

Pipes froze and burst all over the city starting Feb. 15. We got hit with another set of freezing temps on Feb. 17. The crisis escalated quickly. Most of Jackson either lost water pressure or had no water at all for days. The City issued a boil-water notice on Feb. 18. That notice lasted until March 10. Jackson had no drinkable water for 24 days. Read that again. The capital city in a first-world country had no drinking water for 24 days.  

MFP Editor Donna Ladd and I both live in middle-class North Jackson communities and likely have better city services than folks in South and West Jackson. We were never without water and were privileged enough to buy as much drinkable water as we needed. It was irritating but not devastating. South and West Jackson have the oldest infrastructure, are mostly Black and have lower socioeconomic status. They were devastated by the crisis. Many who’d lost wages because they could not drive to work were forced to buy and boil water. Time and money are luxuries many in our community did not have. 

Reporter Nick Judin’s questions to Gov. Delbert Hosemann on March 1, and the answers, turned Jackson’s water crisis into a state and national conversation on systemic racism.

Jackson’s infrastructure is shot. It’s a hot mess, and that’s not solely Jackson’s burden to bear. We don’t get the support we need from the state that other capital cities do. We’ve also kicked the can down the road a dozen times because no administration wanted to, or could, foot the bill to update our old pipes and pitted streets.  

It was interesting to watch state leaders play the blame game in recent weeks. Lt Gov Delbert Hoseman told MFP reporter Nick Judin on March 1 that Jackson had not had great leadership since Kane Ditto was mayor. He was our last white mayor. I’d argue we’ve not had adequate state support and cooperation since that time, but I digress. 

Two weeks in, national media took notice of the water crisis as local leaders, activists, and organizers called for action and accountability. Donna’s piece on NBC News Think calling out the systemic racism the water crisis revealed and Nick’s on-the-ground coverage propelled our team on a media tour that is still continuing. The most recent was Friday when Donna was the opening interview on “On Point” on public radio, which used Jackson’s crisis to look at infrastructure inequity across the country The team has appeared on several podcasts including  WNYC”s The Takeaway. The Journalism Salute and the Slate Podcast Now What.  

The editorial team is used to crisis reporting because most of the time Mississippi is being held together by duct tape and prayer. In case you missed it, there’s still a pandemic going on (see Nick and Ashton’s new COVID-19 timeline), and the largest city in Mississippi didn’t have proper sanitization. They covered a crisis inside of a crisis, and that’s on Mary Had a Little Lamb as the young people would say. (Can y’all tell auntie’s been on TikTok?) They’ve done the job of newsrooms three times the size on not enough sleep with even less time. 

Good journalism is hard and frankly expensive.  

Help us celebrate our 1st birthday by visiting mfp.ms/donate to support MFP journalism. No gift is too small or too big for that matter (ha). Recurring donations carry a lot of weight with funders; $25 a month goes a long way. 

Thanks for all you do to make Mississippi better. 

Read the Mississippi Free Press’ full archive on the Jackson water crisis here, including Nick Judin’s unfolding indepth series on historic causes, past and present responses, and potential solutions.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

Can you support the Mississippi Free Press?

 The Mississippi Free Press is nonprofit, solutions-driven journalism for Mississippians and others who care about the state. 

With your help, we can do even more important stories like this one.