Helena-West Helena’s Water Crisis: A Sweltering Struggle for Clean Water

Helena-West Helena's Water Crisis: A Sweltering Struggle for Clean Water

Helena-West Helena’s Water Crisis: A Sweltering Struggle for Clean Water:

Helena-West Helena residents have endured a three-week water crisis in the east central Arkansas summer heat. Since June, this small town 70 miles south of Memphis has been without clean water. The situation is worsening as temperatures rise into the 90s and are expected to reach 98 degrees this week.

Helena-West Helena, described by Mark Twain as “one of the prettiest situations on the Mississippi,” has 9,000 residents. The ongoing boil water alert has forced them to use bottled water for bathing, cooking, and hydration.

The town’s 60-year-old pipes are the problem. Mayor Christopher Franklin says these old pipes are bursting in various parts of the city, worsening the situation. On June 25, a main water line broke, causing the city’s computer operating system to fail automatically. The predominantly Black community went 20 hours without water in 97-degree heat.

By June 30, the city issued a boil water alert during a 100-degree heatwave. The alert remains due to ongoing infrastructure leaks.

City officials told that repairing the outdated piping system would cost $1 million to $10 million. Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders loaned Helena-West Helena $100,000 to fix primary water system leaks. Franklin and his chief of staff, James Valley, say this amount is insufficient to solve the problem. Although water service was partially restored, pressure remains low and new leaks keep appearing throughout the system.

Since becoming mayor in January, Helena-West Helena native Franklin has tirelessly advocated for aid. He told that his requests for state and federal assistance have been unsuccessful. Franklin believes the town’s majority Black population is to blame.

“In America, where people have the right to good, quality drinking water, the federal government should be running aid,” he fumed. We’re not rushed. So why? We’re Black. Our vote is the only urgency. That’s happening here. What’s left to think?”

Helena-West Helena's Water Crisis: A Sweltering Struggle for Clean Water

Over 30 years in Helena-West Helena, Zenovia Martin-Smith called the situation “ridiculous.” She stressed the impact of not having water for cooking, showering, or drinking and lamented the perception that the town’s predominantly Black population would delay fixing the problem. “Shoot, it’s already been three weeks,” she said.

Governor Huckabee Sanders called on the Arkansas National Guard to provide potable water for Helena-West Helena residents, but the state loan is insufficient to address the underlying issues. The town’s water infrastructure needs major upgrades.

The prolonged Helena-West Helena water crisis highlights the need for infrastructure investment in marginalized communities and equitable access to essential resources. This small town’s residents endure the heat without knowing when their water supply will be restored.

As the situation unfolds, it is crucial to recognize the importance of responding quickly and aiding affected communities. The plight of Helena-West Helena should inspire infrastructure upgrades, especially in neglected areas. We can ensure that no community, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, is left without basic necessities, especially during extreme weather.

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