As climate change accelerates, communities around the world are facing unprecedented water shortages and lack of access to clean drinking water. But there's more going on than just climate change.
Aging water infrastructures, wealth inequities and poor environmental regulations have led to multiple crises across the world, leaving people in supposed "modern civilizations" scrambling to find drinking water, or even water at all. You may already know about the crisis occurring across the West with dropping water levels of Lake Mead, but there are more water crises happening - and everyone should know about them.
Jackson, Mississippi's Water Crisis Deepens
In Jackson, Mississippi, it's been weeks since residents in some parts of the city have been able to access clean water from their taps. In some areas, there's no water at all - clean or otherwise. The city has set up bottled water distribution sites, available since early August, but residents are furious and frustrated, and the most vulnerable are falling behind in getting their water needs met.
At the heart of the problem is a rapidly aging water infrastructure that was overwhelmed by recent flooding, and the fact that Jackson is an extraordinarily poor city - with 1 in 4 residents living in poverty. Many suggest that racism is at the core of the issue as well, with 83% of Jackson residents being Black.
Although the city has been under a "boil water" notice for a month, things have escalated and led the Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves to declare a state of emergency for the city. Newsweek reports, "'The total or near total loss of water pressure throughout the City of Jackson and surrounding areas of Hinds County that receive water from the plant has created a condition of disaster and extreme peril to the safety of persons and property,' the governor's office said in a statement."
Although the city is over-timing their efforts to distribute bottled water, there's no clear time when the city's systems will be restored, and it has residents panicking.
The above-average floods, the aging infrastructure and the wealth and race gap all point to a growing crisis that other cities around the country will soon face, where they aren't already.
The Hawaii Water Crisis You've Probably Never Heard Of: Red Hill
There's another water crisis you are probably unfamiliar with, and it's happening in what many consider to be America's paradise state: Hawaii.
Earlier this week, residents in the Pearl Harbor and surrounding areas of Hawaii called on the Navy to address a rapidly growing crisis after jet fuel leaked from a storage facility and seeped into the groundwater being used for residents across the region. ABC News reports, "A lawsuit alleges the Navy 'harbored toxic secrets' after jet fuel leaked from a storage facility in Hawaii operated by the Navy, contaminating locals' drinking water and sickening hundreds of families.
'You've got American citizens being poisoned by an American asset on American soil,' Army Major Amanda Feindt, whose family is suing, told ABC News.
In November 2021, health officials and the Navy ordered residents of Pearl Harbor and the surrounding area to stop using tap water after dangerous levels of petroleum products were found in the Navy's Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam water system. The source was pinpointed back to the jet fuel leak from the nearby Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility."
It took hundreds of reports from families in the area complaining of "petroleum" smells coming from their tap water for health officials to say anything, and for nearly a year now residents have been trying to draw attention to their plight - which they say is far from resolved. Many residents are still in temporary housing, and are calling on the Navy to step up their response and officially address the closure and defueling of the Red Hill facility at the core of the problem.
The Navy says they completed drinking restoration in March of this year, but residents say it's not enough and plans to defuel the facility by December 2024 were deemed inadequate and rejected. ABC adds, "Locals say 2024 is too long to wait for the promise of clean water.
'Until the facility is fully defueled and decommissioned, Oʻahuʻs aquifer will not be safe,' said DeFranco."
Lake Mead, Drying Up Cities As the Mega-Drought Continues
And in the Western US, the crisis with Lake Mead is reaching worrying levels. The reservoir lake provides water to 25 million people, and its levels are the lowest they've ever been following years of a mega-drought gripping the West.
Some cities down-river from Lake Mead are already receiving less water than usual, and less certainly than they need. As the Lake continues to drop, more rationing occurs. However, in wealthy cities like Las Vegas, the city already has plans in place to bolster internal city water access if Lake Mead access becomes restricted. It's a staggering reminder of the difference between cities with means and those without, as smaller towns along the Lake's downriver path will be hit first and hardest in the coming years.
And things are looking grim. National Geographic explains, "Within as little as 50 years, many regions of the United States could see their freshwater supply reduced by as much as a third, warn scientists. Of all the freshwater basins that channel rain and snow into the rivers from which we draw the water we rely on for everything from drinking and cooking to washing and cleaning, nearly half may be unable to meet consumers’ monthly demands by 2071. This will mean serious water shortages for Americans.
Shortages won’t affect only the regions we’d expect to be dry: with as many as 96 out of 204 basins in trouble, water shortages would impact most of the U.S., including the central and southern Great Plains, the Southwest, and central Rocky Mountain states, as well as parts of California, the South, and the Midwest."
But state efforts to increase desalinization plants and combat climate change could provide hope in the future. Experts believe that it would take years of heavy snows in up-river mountains draining into the Lake to restore Mead to its previous glory, but barring that there are still things state leaders can do, and are doing.
However, it's not just the West rushing headlong into disaster, as Jackson and Flint, Michigan - there are dozens of cities around the US where water quality is poor and will get poorer with a rise in effects from climate change and aging infrastructures meeting the lack of care and attention low income areas need to fix the problem.