NEW YORK – Chamon Williams remembers the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Ida in 2021, and how Catholic Charities of Jackson, Mississippi helped the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux then. Now, she is returning the favor as a water crisis hits Mississippi’s capital city.
“Sometimes we have to support each other before we can get resources from other agencies,” Williams, the executive director of Catholic Charities of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, told Crux.
“I can definitely say that after Hurricane Ida the Jackson Diocese and Catholic Charities of Jackson were very instrumental in getting household supplies, hygiene items, and different food to the Houma-Thibodaux diocese,” Williams said. “So, we’re just sharing the blessing that they shared with us.”
About 215 miles north of Houma, Catholic Charities of Jackson is also doing all it can to respond to the water crisis. The organization bought pallets of water that were available to the community, while simultaneously helping house those displaced by recent flooding.
Wanda Thomas, executive director of Catholic Charities of Jackson, told Crux that the challenge is that even as the water has dried up and people can return to their homes, they’re returning to homes without the water that they need.
“The stores are working really hard in the State of Mississippi to get water in so the water supply will be there,” Thomas said. “Of course, it has to be purchased, so anyone who’s able to send water to the state of Mississippi or send donations to assist with purchasing that water will be greatly appreciated.”
Jackson is a city of about 150,000 residents. The water crisis began earlier this week after the Pearl River flooding caused by excessive rainfall led the city’s main water treatment facility to fail. Gov. Tate Reeves earlier this week declared a state of emergency and activated the Mississippi National Guard.
On Aug. 31, an emergency rental pump was installed at The O.B. Curtis Water Plant. And Reeves’ federal disaster declaration was approved, paving the way for an array of federal programs to assist. Further, Reeves announced on Sept. 1 that the state has seven water distribution sites set up, each of which is open from 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. offering bottled water.
“Getting these water distribution sites set up and running quickly was a top priority,” Reeves said. “Local, state, and federal officials are working together in tandem to ensure that everyone in Jackson has the supplies they need to weather this crisis. As the state works to repair Jackson’s water system, we’ll ensure these sites are well stocked and able to meet the needs of the people.”
On Aug. 31, Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson thanked government officials for their efforts, but also highlighted the need to address what has become a longstanding water problem in Jackson. Compounding the present crisis, the city already had a boiler-water notice that has been in effect for more than a month because of water quality concerns.
“We are pleased that President Biden, Governor Tate Reeves and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba are trying to work together to address the water situation in Jackson,” Kopacz said in a statement. “We pray for a long-term solution to this problem, and a swift response to get water flowing back into all Jackson homes and businesses.”
A spring report from the Mississippi Urban Research Center examined the Jackson water crisis from past and present perspectives, and highlighted the age of Jackson’s water system, the city’s declining population and high poverty rates, and a lack of federal and state assistance as some of the reasons for the city’s persistent water problems. Current Mayor Chokwe Lumumba stated that it would take approximately $2 billion to fully repair and fix a dated Jackson water system.
Recommendations in the report to address the issues include increasing efforts for collecting water bills and creating a new agency for enhanced inter-local government collaboration, increasing African-American church representation in municipality emergency preparedness plans, increasing federal and state investment in Jackson’s water infrastructure, and pursuing innovative methods of generating revenue for the city in light of a shrinking population and tax base.
Until the ball gets rolling on any possible fixes Jackson residents will have to live with the uncertainty of whether something like this will happen again. Thomas said she’s never experienced anything like the present water crisis, noting that this week residents have expressed to her concerns about what this means for the future.
“Water is essential. It is one of the basic needs of life for us to be healthy and survive, so when you think about that and think about not having it, it is very terrifying for them and I’m sure we will have a lot more of those conversations with those who arrive at our office today and tomorrow as they come by to pick up the water that’s being offered,” Thomas said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg