In this lesson, students will learn how more than 150,000 people were without safe, reliable drinking water for weeks and how climate change has emerged as a growing threat to water systems across the country.
Featured Article: “Mississippi Crisis Highlights Climate Threat to Drinking Water Nationwide” by Christopher Flavelle, Rick Rojas, Jim Tankersley and Jack Healy
For nearly seven weeks, the roughly 150,000 residents of Jackson, Miss., did not have access to safe drinking water after severe rains and flooding overwhelmed crumbling systems. On Sept. 15, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi announced that a boil-water advisory had finally been lifted.
In this lesson, you will learn about the water crisis in Jackson and how climate change combined with aging infrastructure and underinvestment are pushing city water systems across the nation into failure. Then, in Going Further activities, we provide opportunities to learn more about how to help the residents in Jackson and to inform others about the crisis and other threats to our country’s water systems.
How often do you think about water — and the vital role it plays in our lives?
Before reading the article, take a few minutes to reflect on water and your everyday life. Then, make a list of all the ways that you and your family use water on a typical day and week.
Afterward, share and compare your list with a partner: What do you notice about your lists? Are you surprised by the many ways you regularly use water and how water is essential to your lives?
Finally, imagine that all of the water in your town or city went away. Discuss with your partner: What would you do without water? How would the loss of water affect your life and well-being?
Next, watch the three-minute video from Sept. 4 on the water crisis in Jackson, Miss., filmed when the boil-water advisory was still in effect. Then, through writing or discussion with a partner, respond to the following prompts:
How has the loss of clean water affected the residents of Jackson, Miss.?
How have they tried to cope with the water crisis?
What are the Jackson residents doing to help one another?
What does the video make you think and feel? Which quote stands out most and why?
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the featured article and then answer the following questions:
1. The article begins: “Flash floods, wildfires and hurricanes are easy to recognize as ravages of a fast-changing climate. But now, climate change has also emerged as a growing threat to clean, safe drinking water across the country.” What evidence do Times writers provide to support this claim in the opening paragraphs?
2. Why is Jackson’s water system so fragile? What are the factors that caused this situation?
3. How are residents of Jackson and eastern Kentucky affected by the lack of clean water?
4. President Biden’s infrastructure bill signed into law last fall was intended to address water crises like the one in Jackson and other cities and states in the U.S. Why hasn’t the law’s pledge of $50 billion for climate resilience not been able to prevent the current crises in Mississippi or eastern Kentucky, according to the article? What else do you think we can do as a nation to address the challenges and threats to America’s water systems?
5. The article concludes with a quote from Thomas Burns Jr., the mayor of Buckhorn, Ky., whose residents are still under a boil-water advisory: “We’ve ignored our infrastructure. It’s scary. We take this thing about fresh water for granted.” What are your big takeaways from the article? Will you continue to take clean, accessible water for granted?
Using the information from the article, the video or further research, create something to educate others about the water crisis in Jackson or eastern Kentucky, or about the broader issues of crumbling infrastructure and climate change and how they threaten our water systems, and to inspire action. You can use words, images, graphs, comparisons or anything else that you think would be effective. Here are some creative options:
A meme using an image and a fact from the article and video
An infographic or poster that explains one aspect of the crisis in Jackson or the larger dangers to America’s water systems (here are some examples)
An editorial cartoon that expresses your opinion about what is happening
A public service announcement (here are a few tips on how to make one)
Additional Teaching and Learning Opportunities
Learn more about how we get our water: How exactly does water get from rain clouds to our houses and faucets? First, make some predictions: How do you think water gets to your house? Then, watch this short video, read this cool illustrated article or look at this infographic to understand the complex process. Afterward, draw a map showing the many steps from rain in the clouds to your sink, shower and toilet.
Explore the role of environmental racism in the story of the Jackson water crisis: Watch this eight-minute video from “PBS NewsHour” on how the crisis is a sign of larger racial inequities. Then, through writing or discussion with a partner, share three new things you learned and two questions the video raised for you.
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