I plan to start writing about Jackson’s water issues. This will consist of several articles in the near future.
I will do my best to write as objectively as possible, being fair to all parties involved, with no ax to grind. I hope eventually to be able to write intelligently about the cause of our problems and chart a reasonable course to correct these problems.
I feel like I’m in a good position to do that. I have been writing this column for over 30 years. I believe most readers have confidence in my ability to analyze complex issues and explain them clearly. I have many sources that trust me.
Building trust with sources is key to quality reporting and analysis. Over the past week, I have had long conversations with a dozen people at all levels of government and involvement. I already have a good understanding of the main issues, but there is still a lot of research to be done.
Usually these conversations are “not for attribution,” meaning I can’t quote the person giving me the information, but I can use the knowledge. Many sources confuse “not for attribution” with “off the record”. Off the record means you may not use the information at all, with or without attribution. So “off the record” is stricter than “not for attribution”.
During my conversations, I often ask questions and get the answer: “That’s a very good question. Let me know if you find the answer. I plan to find those answers and post them in this column and move the ball down the court.
I am already discovering that water issues can only be understood in the context of a larger problem that affects all city operations. In that sense, the water issue is a microcosm of the challenges Jackson is facing right now.
One aspect of this is the fact that Mayor Antar Lumumba is a left-wing Democrat in a right-wing Republican state. Many of Jackson’s issues will require local and state cooperation, which is difficult because of politics.
It’s good policy for Republicans to point fingers at Jackson’s problems and blame incompetent Democratic leaders. “See what happens when you elect Democrats! And it’s good policy for Lumumba to blame right-wing Republican leaders for refusing funds. “See what you get from these miserly right-wing Republicans. They hate Jackson. But I will stand up for you and fight them for you!
Meanwhile, as this political spectacle continues, tens of thousands of Jacksonians are afraid to drink the water.
Let me tell you right now, I drink Jackson’s water without hesitation. I do not even think about it. But I am alone in my family of five who are much more cautious.
Let’s be clear: I’m not advocating that readers ignore these boil water alerts. But personally, I have enough experience with government regulations to know that overpowering is the rule. We have some of the strictest water regulations in the world with constant testing and monitoring. I will stop drinking water when there is a real outbreak of waterborne disease, which to my knowledge has not happened yet.
Consider this most recent boil alert that involves a failed “turbidity” test.
Turbidity is an indication of the presence of tiny suspended particles in the water. High turbidity means more particles, which could potentially be bacteria or microorganisms.
So turbidity does not mean the water is bad, it just means the water is more likely to be bad.
When the tests actually show dangerous bacteria and microorganisms in the water, that’s when I stop drinking it. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
This is not unlike the covid issue, when there was a wide variation in caution displayed by people. Some people crowded into their homes, terrified. Others, like me, continued on their way. People are different.
So far no one has gotten sick, but the restaurants are sucking in the wind.
If I choose to drink water and get sick, I have no one to sue but myself. A restaurant is in a different ship. If they ignore a turbidity warning, they expose their restaurant to a lawsuit.
As a result, hundreds of restaurants in Jackson have to go through a variety of procedures and expenses whenever there is a boil water alert. These additional costs destroy their profit margins.
And to make matters worse, they lose 20% of their business to neighboring towns during the boil water alert. These are the 20 percent of people who are very afraid of waterborne diseases. Losing 20% of your income while incurring huge additional costs will destroy Jackson’s restaurant industry. It’s a crisis, but no one seems to care.
When covid hit, the federal government immediately stepped in with emergency relief funds. It saved my business and millions of others.
But there has been no such local or state emergency relief plan for the hundreds of desperate restaurants that will soon close. Where is the leadership in this regard?
I imagine there are attorneys already considering representing these restaurant owners in a class action lawsuit against the city for this prolonged boiling water crisis.
The lack of cooperation between cities and states is compounded by the drastic reduction in funding for water system infrastructure by the federal government over the past 20 years. As a result, boil water alerts are on the rise across the country. Jackson may be one of the worst, but he’s not the only one.
A scan of the internet couldn’t determine an average number of boil water alerts for a city the size of Jackson, but five system-wide alerts over the past 18 months aren’t. definitely not normal.
There was a lot of noise surrounding a four-day boil water alert in Austin earlier this year, but it was an isolated incident. Jackson’s boil water alert is now in its 18th day.
According to the Louisiana Illuminator website, Rapides Parish (Alexandria), Louisiana recorded 141 boil water alerts over a two-year period. St. Tammany Parish (Covington/Slidell) had 200. So Jackson isn’t the only one. Overall, Louisiana had 1,000 boil water alerts each year, an average of one per municipality. I couldn’t find such statistics for Mississippi.
A Texas study showed that boil water alerts were increasing rapidly in Texas — a 73% increase from 2011 to 2016. This problem is not unique to Jackson. Our preponderance of Yazoo Clay probably doesn’t help matters.
The good news is that we have very comprehensive and strict testing laws enforced by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department of Health working in conjunction. So we know the problem. Repairing it is much more difficult.