A city of Jackson water maintenance crew repairs a broken waterline March 6, 2021, on Pascagoula Street. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

More than half of Mississippians believe the state has an obligation to help Jackson and its residents with the current water crisis, according to a poll released Wednesday.

A historic winter storm in mid-February froze water plant equipment and burst many pipes in the capital city, and tens of thousands of residents — mostly Black — were without water for nearly three weeks. Today, city officials say most residents have had water service restored, though the entire city is still under a boil water notice.

The ongoing water crisis is the result of decades of inaction from city leaders, who put off routine maintenance and meaningful infrastructure repairs as the city’s tax base and revenue collections diminished. Current and former city leaders, having dealt for decades with aging and brittle pipes, say they need investment from the state and federal government.

A poll from Millsaps College and Chism Strategies released on Wednesday found that 55.3% of those polled believe the state needs to help the city repair its water system, while 29.5% did not and 15.2% were unsure.

There was less of a consensus over where the funding for repairing the capital city’s water system should come from. Of those surveyed, 33.2% believe funding should come from a combination of federal, state and local tax dollars. Those who believe funding should come from Jackson’s city government alone came in a close second, making up 32.6% of survey responses. The poll also found that 16.4% believe funding should come from the federal government alone, while 11.4% said it should be the state government and 6.7% were unsure.

There are proposals at the federal, state and local levels that would direct funding towards Jackson’s water infrastructure.

On Tuesday, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith introduced legislation that would tap three federal agencies to provide Jackson with a combination of loans, loan forgiveness and grants for water infrastructure projects. 

State lawmakers are currently weighing their options for getting funding to Jackson before the end of the 2021 legislative session. The options being considered include issuing $47 million in state bonds to the city for emergency repairs to its water system. A bill is also making its way through the Legislature that, if approved by lawmakers and Jackson voters, would increase the city’s sales tax by 1 cent and generate an estimated $14 million per year for water infrastructure projects. The legislature could also reconvene later in 2021 to appropriate Mississippi’s share of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed last week, and some of that money could be funneled to Jackson.

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.