Why Jackson’s water crisis 'a cautionary tale' about the 'relentless nature' of climate change: report

Why Jackson’s water crisis 'a cautionary tale' about the 'relentless nature' of climate change: report
Image via Creative Commons.

As climate change continues to escalate, one of its devastating effects will be too much water in some places and not enough water in others. Scientists and climate change experts have been warning that floods will become more common, but so will droughts.

One part of the United States that recently suffered record flooding was the area around Jackson, Mississippi. As a result, Jackson residents have been deprived of safe drinking water — and officials in Mississippi have warned them to avoid opening their mouths when they’re taking a shower.

National Public Radio’s Scott Neuman, in an article published by NPR’s website on September 7, warns that climate change is not only making floods more common — it is also threatening water supplies. According to Neuman, the crisis in Jackson underscores the “fragility of waters systems” in the United States and shows how “increasingly vulnerable” they will be to “the effects of climate change in the coming years.”

READ MORE: When will the pain of climate change become too great to ignore?

“As rainfall of historic proportions flooded Mississippi's Pearl River, a key pump at the O.B. Curtis water treatment plant, which provides the capital city with its drinking water, was unable to keep up, causing a severe drop in water pressure,” Neuman explains. “Some 150,000 residents were left without safe drinking water. Although water pressure has been restored, a boil-water notice remains in effect. Historic flooding and record droughts are already stressing water systems across the country, but as the threats to infrastructure posed by climate change intensify, experts warn that what happened in Jackson may be just the beginning.”

Mami Hara, CEO of the U.S. Water Alliance, describes the crisis in Jackson as a “cautionary tale.” And Steven Buchberger of the University of Cincinnati's College of Engineering and Applied Science in Ohio warns that water treatment facilities that “are decades old and have been neglected” are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Buchberger told NPR, “It’s a huge issue, and it's got lots of different dimensions…. In many instances, communities didn't really do the proper maintenance that was required to keep updating the infrastructure.”

Neuman cites Iowa City, Iowa as a place where officials have been “proactive” about protecting their water supply in the event of extreme flooding, which Iowa City suffered in 1993 and 2008.

READ MORE: Climate change made Britain’s heatwave at least 10 times more likely, scientists say

“In 2003,” Neuman notes, “the city moved its water treatment plant out of the flood plain. To ensure it could keep pumping in the event of a major flood, it now gets water from under the river, (Iowa City Public Works Director Ronald) Knoche says…. The historic flooding that arrived five years later, however, would underscore the relentless nature of the challenges that places like Iowa City face from climate change — even when they're being proactive. The 2008 flood was considered a once-in-every 500-year event, causing the Iowa River to crest at about 31.5 feet and damaging or destroying 351 structures in the city.”

READ MORE: Paul Krugman: The US Supreme Court is promoting a climate change ‘apocalypse’

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