What’s the damage? Thoughts on America’s infrastructure

Volunteers handing water bottles out for Jackson residents (BBC News)

Volunteers handing water bottles out for Jackson residents (BBC News)

The current clean water shortage occurring in Jackson, Mississippi is raising questions and getting people thinking about what caused it, as well as whether or not this could have been prevented. Many people believe that the entire situation was avoidable, but due to racial prejudice as well as an overall neglect of infrastructure throughout the US, the situation escalated to a clean water crisis. 

On August 29, 2022, flooding in Mississippi damaged the O.B Curtis water plant that supplied filtered and running water to the 150,000 people of Jackson. For almost seven weeks, the national guard was deployed in order to pass out water bottles on sometimes mile-long lines to residents. On September 15, the boil water advisory that had been implemented on August 29 was finally lifted as the water factory has been temporarily fixed with emergency rental pipes. 

In the damage and aftermath, citizens throughout the US are now questioning how the situation got so bad. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ overall grade for America’s infrastructure was a C. The categories within the rankings include condition and capacity, funding, maintenance, innovation, public safety, and solutions. 

The ASCE’s information can help put in perspective the extent of neglect throughout the US. 39 billion gallons of water are used every day, all of which needs to be filtered for use. The filtered water system is made up of 2.2 million miles of pipe. From 2004 to 2017, there were between 10 to 37 bursts or leaks per 10 miles of pipe, averaging 300,000 breaks a year, which is about one water main break every two minutes. 7.6 million dollars were wasted on pipe repairs due to the lack of foundation when they were built. 

Even with the rise in demand for drinking water due to rising populations, federal funding fell from 37% to 9% between 1994 to 2017. About two-thirds of spending on infrastructure is decided by state and local governments. In terms of funding, the CNJ estimates about $1 billion to renew the water based infrastructure in Mississippi, as of September 2022 the fund for the state is around $429 million, which is entirely due to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

This is also not the first time Jackson has faced infrastructure issues, and due to Jackson’s population being majority black and democratic, many have blamed the severity of the crisis on race-based infrastructure neglect. According to Connecticut’s Nonprofit Journalism, a normal water filter plant like the one in Jackson is built to last around 40 years, and the damaged plant was about 100 years old. Historically, Jackson has had more school and hospital closings than normal as a result of the lacking infrastructure; since there has been more severe weather in the south in recent years, the issue could have life threatening effects due to exterior factors including fertilizers and sediment within the water sources. Additionally, in 2021, the city had a 200 day long water-boil notice, again, due to severe weather and flooding. 

Despite the destructive effects of this situation, the amount of attention this recent water shortage is receiving in contrast to past shortages means Jackson could finally be on the road to infrastructure repairs and higher levels of public safety acknowledgment from higher governmental powers.


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