In the months since the most recent water problems began in Jackson, Mississippi, national attention has subsided, donations have dwindled and volunteers have been hard to find.

Jackson’s already fragile water system suffered a one-day outage over the summer, in a crisis that sparked national outrage and drew attention to decades of water struggles in the city of Jackson. 150,000 residents, nearly 83% of them black. Thanks to donations and national attention, grassroots organizers were able to distribute hundreds of cases of bottled water to panicked residents after the OB Curtis water plant failed in August.

Now, some five months later, organizers say there aren’t many resources to distribute to residents who still need them.

“The huge amount of help that took place in August is very different now. I guess people got burned,” said Gino Womack, program director for the community organization Operation Good. “There are so many mixed messages about who is to blame, who is to blame, but at the end of the day, it is the people who suffer. There is still a struggle to give people this basic need.»

At one point over the summer, Operation Good was delivering 700 cases of water to long lines of Jackson residents in a single day. But the donated water and funds “ran out quickly,” and the organization hasn’t been able to distribute such a high volume of water in a single day since, Womack added.

Image: A line of cars winds past several city blocks as Mississippi Rapid Response coalition workers deliver bottled water to residents of Jackson, Mississippi on December 27, 2022.
A line of cars winds through several city blocks as Mississippi Rapid Response coalition workers deliver bottled water to residents of Jackson, Mississippi on December 27, 2022.Michael Goldberg File / AP

Jackson has one of the oldest water systems in the country, and authorities routinely order residents to boil their water for safety, with residents often reporting brown water, sewage leaks, and low water pressure. Since the water shutoff over the summer, residents have relied heavily on bottled water for eating and drinking, and some for bathing as well. Until Tuesday there was four warnings of boiling water for areas through Jackson, and advisories had ended in four other areas in the past week. And the city is working to address elevated lead levels in drinking water in the Jackson area, according to to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Still, promises of help gave organizers some hope during the summer blackout. Mississippi was slated to receive $429 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to repair its water and wastewater systems over the next five years, primarily in loans and grants provided through the Environmental Protection Agency. But, in October, the EPA announced that it would investigate whether Jackson had handled federal funds in a discriminatory manner against its residents.

The investigation came in response to a federal complaint filed by the NAACP last September, in which the group alleged that Mississippi officials had «almost guaranteed» a drinking water calamity in Jackson by depriving the state capital of much-needed funds to improve its infrastructure.

“Jackson’s majority black population has been repeatedly ignored, belittled or ridiculed, resulting in the most recent inequity and crisis in water access,” the NAACP said.

Months before the water cut in August, residents suffered a cold snap in 2021, with extremely low temperatures freezing pipes and leaving many without water. And last month, residents were again under a boil advisory after a winter storm and burst pipes left thousands without running water.

Now, Autumn Brown, an organizer with the Jackson Cooperation community group, said it’s like city and state officials «don’t want to help Jackson.»

“What I would like to see is that we can get the resources that we need to make the city a better place and make it livable for the people who are here,” Brown said.

Cooperation Jackson was also able to distribute hundreds of cases of water each day. You can now only provide water at occasional events in the city. Instead, it primarily operates a hotline where residents can call and request what little water the group has access to, or be directed to community centers and churches that have enough water to distribute.

All of this is done by just a handful of volunteers, Brown said.

“Every time people hear that someone is delivering water, the lines are still huge and long,” Brown said. “People still have needs and the community is trying to meet them as soon as possible, but we don’t have a lot of help from our government sources.”