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How businesses in Jackson are getting by without water

The city’s struggle illustrates how much small businesses depend on a reliable water supply.

Seth Herald / Getty Images

In early August, restaurateurs in Jackson, Mississippi, wrote a letter to politicians warning of disaster if they didn’t fix the local water system.

The worst case scenario unfolded last week: Jackson ran out of water for its ~153k residents, and businesses are coping with the aftermath.

Jackson’s water supply failed businesses

Tanya Burns was supposed to host an event at her Italian restaurant last Monday.

Then, she told ABC News, her water pressure halted. Without a working dishwasher or flushable toilets, Burns shut her restaurant for the week.

Burns’ restaurant is one of many that have closed. Others have seen sales fall by ~30%, and hairdressers have canceled appointments, unable to wash hair.

At the same time, costs have increased.

  • Without dependable tap water, some restaurants have been spending $500-$700 a day on ice and bottled water.
  • Businesses have rented portable toilets for up to $5k a week.

Problems with water are nothing new

Torrential rain and flooding has led to this extreme disruption of Jackson’s water supply. But water problems have been chronic because of longtime financial issues:

  • Water infrastructure funding from the EPA has declined since the ‘70s. Last year, Jackson said it needed $1B to repair pipes and treatment facilities; the EPA spent $2.7B for the entire country in 2021.
  • Jackson’s tax base has suffered from white flight for generations, and the ~80% Black population has been neglected by state and regional leaders, according to the Brookings Institution. The population fell by ~20k just in the last decade.

Water pressure was restored to most of Jackson on Sunday. But, as of Tuesday, the city remained under a boil water notice — for the 40th consecutive day — forcing businesses to keep footing higher bills to stay open.

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