150,000 Jackson, Miss., residents were under a boil water notice even before heavy rainfall and river flooding overwhelmed the system this past weekend due to decades of underinvestment and deferred maintenance.
According to The Washington Post, “Every public drinking water system in the country is vulnerable to a natural disaster,” said Andrew Whelton, an environmental engineer at Purdue University who has advised utilities and the U.S. Army on water safety issues. “But many are not actually prepared to respond in the way they’re going to need to be.”
Generations-old sewers are routinely overwhelmed by bigger storms. Algae blooms and excess sediment may contaminate reservoirs amid high temperatures and prolonged drought. Rising sea levels can stymie septic systems and cause saltwater to leach into wells. When wildfires destroy water mains and spread chemical contamination, it may take months for drinking water to become safe again.