The following is a statement by Dennis D. Truax, President, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE):
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As a Mississippian and President of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), my heart goes out to all of those impacted in Jackson. No one should be without safe drinking water in the 21st Century.
One of the city’s two water-treatment plants was already struggling to provide citizens and businesses with clean, safe water. This had resulted in a boil water notice for the state’s capital since the end of July. Then the flooding of the Pearl River caused catastrophic problems as the last operational pumps failed. As of Wednesday morning, more than 150,000 people in Jackson were without consistent safe drinking water to drink, bath, prepare food, brush teeth or flush toilets.
Unfortunately, Jackson’s water crisis is emblematic of compounding challenges facing our drinking water infrastructure. The Pearl River flooding was brought on by excessive rainfall, demonstrating the dangers of relying on legacy infrastructure for 21st century challenges and growing challenges associated with stormwater. Stormwater debuted at a dismal D in ASCE’s most recent national Infrastructure Report Card. And in 2020, drinking water systems earned a “D” in the Mississippi Infrastructure Report Card, meaning that many systems throughout the state are in poor condition. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimated that Mississippi needs $4.8 billion over the next 20 years to fund safe drinking water infrastructure, including nearly $1 billion for treatment infrastructure. This funding is necessary to construct, expand, or rehabilitate infrastructure like the treatment plant that failed in Jackson.
All of utilities in Mississippi are doing what they can to protect the citizens they serve. However, with very limited resources, these systems have become increasingly susceptible to water main breaks, treatment facility problems, and other infrastructure failures. Funding from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is providing significant resources to the state’s drinking water systems - $429 million over five years. While this figure is not enough to completely reverse the decline of the state’s systems, improved planning, data, and financial assistance is a crucial step to help utilities tackle deferred maintenance projects, and better withstand extreme precipitation, wind, and other natural hazards.
Civil engineers play a crucial role in disaster response, ensuring that communities build back more resiliently and are prepared for the future. I join my fellow ASCE members in Mississippi and throughout the country in supporting impacted communities and standing ready to assist as Jackson water treatment plants are repaired and modernized.
About the American Society of Civil Engineers
Founded in 1852, the American Society of Civil Engineers represents more than 150,000 civil engineers worldwide and is America's oldest national engineering society. ASCE works to raise awareness of the need to maintain and modernize the nation's infrastructure using sustainable and resilient practices, advocates for increasing and optimizing investment in infrastructure, and improve engineering knowledge and competency. For more information, visit www.asce.org or www.infrastructurereportcard.org and follow us on Twitter, @ASCETweets and @ASCEGovRel.