Climate Action

The Infrastructure Failures During the 2022 Jackson, Mississippi Floods Point to a Larger Issue

Heavy rains in late August 2022 resulted in the cresting of the Pearl River, causing flood waters to spill into the surrounding suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi. The flooding resulted in the disruption of water treatment systems, leaving tens of thousands in Bolivar and Hinds Counties under a boil water notice for weeks afterwards.

The communities surrounding the capital region of Mississippi are no strangers to flooding and potable water issues. A similar event occurred on the Pearl River in February 2020, where water treatment pumps failed to alleviate the flood waters. Many locals remember the 1979 Easter Flood where intense rainfall and flooding of the Pearl River caused over $1 billion in damages in today’s dollars around the Jackson area.

Situated within a river delta, the low-lying and permeable delta soils make the region extremely susceptible to subsidence (the sinking of land)  and flooding. Its proximity to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and its annual hurricane season make the region sensitive to the slightest changes in climate.

Mississippi’s Department of Environmental Quality’s Delta Sustainable Water Resources Task Force was created in 2014 to oversee sustainable water usage, but recent failures and irregularities in enforcement have put its effectiveness into question. The flooding in late August was exacerbated by equipment failures at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, leaving much of Hinds County without safe drinking water. With proper upkeep of municipal infrastructure, it is likely that breakdowns like this can be preventable.

The lack of funding for critical municipal services is a systemic issue decades in the making. Protests for equitable distribution of federal funds for Black neighborhoods in 1970 succeeded, but have since rarely been achieved. With Bolivar and Hinds Counties’ populations majority Black, the lack of funding for these counties’ infrastructure compared to the wealthier and majority white Madison County is notable.

The failure to properly upkeep vital infrastructure in a county where nearly 26% of its population is in poverty is an indicator of which communities will face the front lines of the damages of climate change going forward. As climate change makes severe weather events more intense, the Mississippi Delta Region will continue to see more flooding events. If infrastructure for these vulnerable communities is not properly funded, we will continue to see similar municipal injustices over and over again.

EARTHDAY.ORG’s campaign Invest in our Planet encourages our partners and communities to take steps to ensure we leave to future generations a planet worth inhabiting. Investing from the bottom up by ensuring stable infrastructure for those most vulnerable to climate change must be a priority. Access to safe drinking water, especially in times of severe weather, is a necessity if communities on the front line of climate change are to survive.

Suffering caused by severe weather events will only be exacerbated by deteriorated infrastructure in the Mississippi Delta Region. Proper funding for upkeep and improvements to existing infrastructure is a necessary first step towards public safety and trust in the system.