September 7, 2022

As a local environment and data reporter at Mississippi Today, Alex Rozier has had the chance to talk to a number of national outlets about the water crisis in Jackson.

His message stays the same: “This is not something that just started. This has been something that’s been going on for years and years, and it’s still going to be a problem even after the national media leaves.”

Jackson, the capital of Mississippi and its largest city with a population of more than 160,000 people, is at the center of national media attention after issues at local water treatment plants left tens of thousands of people without running water. Flooding from the nearby Pearl River, along with broken pumps at Jackson’s largest treatment plant, had caused many households to experience lower water pressure.

Schools went virtual as a result. Cancer patients had to evacuate the city. President Joe Biden declared an emergency over the water crisis, and 600 members of the National Guard worked with state agencies to distribute water around the city.

On Monday, local and state officials said that water had been restored to all Jackson residents. But the city remains under a boil water notice, which had first been put in place in late July, and officials warned that the water system may face additional issues in the coming weeks.

“The treatment plant that brings the water in from the Pearl River is needing millions and millions of dollars in repairs. There’s a staffing issue. There’s a billing issue, where the city is not even able to get money because it can’t bill customers. The distribution lines need replacing,” Rozier said. “It’s very much a long-term thing.”

Reporters at Mississippi Today — a local nonprofit outlet that was founded in 2016 — have been working to keep residents updated on the city’s complex, constantly evolving water crisis even as they deal with the consequences of the failing system themselves. Rozier estimated that half of the newsroom lives in Jackson, and some of his colleagues have reported lower water pressure in their homes.

Rozier said he has been lucky in that he never lost running water. The crisis has had an uneven impact on the city’s residents. Those who live farther away from the treatment plant have suffered the worst of the crisis. Those areas also tend to be the poorer parts of the city.

Still, Rozier and his roommate have had to boil the water they use to drink, cook, brush their teeth and wash their dishes. They have also had to stock up on water from the grocery store.

“It’s simply been stressful just thinking of stuff like, ‘Oh, do I need to put water in the bathtub in case we need to flush the toilet? Should I be conserving water?’” Rozier said. “It’s definitely just added to all the stress in what was already kind of a chaotic time.”

Contributing to that chaos has been officials’ response to the crisis. Every day brings multiple press conferences, and sometimes the information presented at those events is contradictory.

“The city and the state are kind of addressing the issue separately, where one will hold a press conference in one part of the day and the other will hold a press conference a few hours after,” Rozier said. “It’s a little hard to get a consensus between them on some of the details.”

Rozier pointed to the beginning of the crisis, when Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said that flooding was the cause of the city’s water issues. A few hours later, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves blamed broken pumps.

Residents have also gotten mixed messages on the safety of the water. At one point, Reeves and other officials told residents not to drink the water. They later qualified the statement and said residents could drink the water but only after boiling it.

“That was really frustrating because to me, that’s like the most basic thing that people should know. Can I drink it if I boil it, or can I just not drink it at all?” Rozier said. “First and foremost, I want people to know what they can do safely without endangering their health.”

Rozier and his colleagues have put out guides to answer residents’ questions about the crisis and to keep them updated on water distribution sites. Mississippi Today has also invited residents to text the newsroom with questions about the water crisis.

Right now, the newsroom is focused on covering the immediate crisis, Rozier said. But he later hopes to tackle “big picture” questions about how the city arrived at this point and what possible solutions might look like.

“When we’re not in the middle of the crisis, that’s the kind of stuff that our newsroom likes to prioritize,” Rozier said. “How did we get here? What’s going to happen next?”

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at or on Twitter @angelanfu.
Angela Fu

More News

Back to News