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Jackson, MS Skyline with flooding Pearl River in the foreground in August 2022

Jackson, Miss. skyline with flooding Pearl River in the foreground in August 2022.

September 6, 2022 | 1 comment

The Jackson Water Crisis and Environmental Racism

Ask Students: How many residents have been affected by the water contamination crisis in Jackson, Miss.? How long have people been wary of drinking the water?

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Summary

Environmental racism and its effects on water quality in communities of color is an ongoing, severe and often silent issue that is related to a pervasive history of community disinvestment, residential segregation and discrimination. Recently, the water contamination crisis in Jackson, Miss., a city with an 82 percent Black population, made headlines when the city told residents not only to not drink the water, but even to keep their mouths closed when showering.

What Is Environmental Racism?

Environmental racism refers to the institutional rules, regulations, policies or government and/or corporate decisions that deliberately target certain communities for locally undesirable land uses and lax enforcement of zoning and environmental laws, resulting in communities being disproportionately exposed to toxic and hazardous waste based upon race.

Despite this issue just breaking in the national news, there is unfortunately nothing new about another water crisis in a majority-Black community. Other recent crises have persisted for years in cities like:

  • Flint, Mich
  • Benton Harbor, Mich.
  • Newark, N.J.
  • Milwaukee, Wis
  • Washington, D.C.

Listen to this five-minute podcast with your students, and have them review this brief article, both from NPR.

Did You Know?

 Legal limits for contaminants in tap water have not been updated for more than 20 years.

Discussion Questions: Brown Water and Political Division

  1. How many residents have been affected by the water contamination crisis in Jackson, Miss.?
  2. What issues have contributed to Jackson’s water being considered “unsafe”? How long have people been wary of drinking the water?
  3. How much would improvements to improve the city’s water infrastructure cost? 
  4. How do you think politicians from both sides of the aisle can come together to solve the ongoing crisis?
  5. Jackson will be receiving money from the recent federal infrastructure law that was passed in 2021. Why do you think most politicians in Mississippi’s congressional delegation voted against it?

Activity: Watersheds and Pollutants

A watershed is the land area that drains into a stream or other body of water. For example, when it rains, you can often see little streams of water running along a street gutter or across a parking lot. These flow into larger streams and finally into puddles or sewage pipes or maybe even into a real stream or river. The watershed for the puddle or sewage pipe or stream, would include all of the small trickles and streams that flow into it, as well as all of the ground that they flow over.

Check out the databases below and learn more about your local watershed and pollutants (like lead) that might be present in what you drink out of the tap by using your location or that of another region. Consider comparing and contrasting your results if using different locations in the classroom to learn about the quality of water in the United States. Then, investigate the demographics for your chosen location by using the U.S. Census Bureau’s QuickFacts database.

How’s My Waterway?
Use this tool from the Environmental Protection Agency to answer the following  questions by clicking through the tabs at the top after you input your location.

  1. What is the condition of your local body of water?
  2. Click the swimming tab. Is it safe to swim in your local lake or river? Would you swim there given its rating?
  3. Click the aquatic life tab. Are fish and other marine life living in safe conditions?
  4. Click the identified issues tab. What impairments have impacted your local waterways?

EWG's Tapwater Database
Does legality equal safety? Use the Environmental Working Group’s tap water database tool to identify which utility provides your water, and how many pollutants and contaminants are present in what you drink.

Visualizing the Crisis: Voices on Social Media

Watch this video as a pregnant mother, her husband and a community activist explain how the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, has affected them and others.


Andy Kratochvil is an SML team member who loves hiking, scary books, Mexican food, and finding great content for the Share My Lesson community.He studied political science and French at California State University, Fullerton and received his Master’s in International Affairs from American University

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Belinda Peter September 9, 2022, 5:47 pm

Thank you for putting together this lesson. I really appreciate how the discussion questions are framed. Can't wait to use this resource!