Residents of Jackson, Mississippi, are currently without reliable running water. On Monday, officials announced that due to recent heavy rains, the Pearl River had overflowed its banks and pushed river water into the larger of the capital city’s two water treatment plants, causing problems that disrupted its operations. All tap water has been declared unsafe to drink, and with little or no water pressure in many areas, residents are unable to shower or flush toilets.
Schools have reverted to virtual learning, businesses have temporarily closed their doors, fire stations are warning they might not have enough water to adequately do their jobs, and everyday Jacksonians are using bottled water to brush their teeth—if they’re lucky. On Tuesday morning, the city quickly ran out of the bottled water it was distributing before sourcing more and activating the National Guard to get it out. The water crisis is garnering national headlines, but for many in Jackson, it’s no surprise. They’ve been struggling with unclean water and an inconsistent supply off and on for years.
Business owners are scrambling, many of them just starting to get their footing back amid the pandemic. Just a few months ago in Garden & Gun, contributor John T. Edge wrote about a young Jackson chef and restaurateur, Zacchaeus Golden, who runs Southern Soigné, a tasting-menu restaurant set just a few blocks from the state capitol. We caught up with chef Golden to glean some on-the-ground insight on what Jackson residents are facing and what it’s like trying to keep a restaurant afloat without running water.
How long have you been in Jackson?
I’m originally from Belzoni, Mississippi, not far away, and I’ve been living in Jackson for just over two years. I opened my restaurant in December 2021.
How is the water shortage affecting your restaurant?
It’s not good, but I’m fortunate in that mine is a very small restaurant. We seat twelve guests nightly, by reservation only. So I can use bottled water to cook with and serve to guests. And I was already doing that, before the current issue, because Jackson has had water problems the entire time I’ve been here. I’ve never trusted it. Now I have to use bottled water even to wash dishes though, so that’s an added cost. For larger businesses that need a lot more water to operate, just imagine the money that’s been lost.
So Southern Soigné is still open?
Yes. We will keep going as long as I can get enough bottled water. I’ve got reservations tomorrow and all weekend. But I don’t know what next week looks like.
Do you know how it is affecting other restaurants?
I haven’t talked to anyone else, but I did see on social media that Elvie’s is closing down for a bit. That’s a large operation, so that’s got to be bad for all involved there. [Update: According to its Instagram account, Elvie’s was able to open back up for dinner on Tuesday before shifting to a to-go only burger menu on Wednesday.]
What prompted you to start using bottled water prior to this week?
The water issues here are not new. The facilities are old. There’s a lack of leadership and responsibility among city officials. It’s all ongoing and getting worse. It’s extremely frustrating and kinda unreal. It doesn’t seem like things could get to this place in America. These are things you hear about in other countries. It has been coming; just nobody has been talking about it until it got so out of control it made the national news.
How is it affecting you at home?
I just relocated to Vicksburg, and my mom is there now, thank goodness. [Golden’s mother, Margie, helps run Southern Soigné.] I wasn’t sure the move would be permanent, but now, with this, it might be. The decision is, commute to my restaurant in Jackson, or live in a place where I might not be able to take a shower.
What’s the solution?
I don’t know exactly what needs to be done, but that’s the next step. Fellow residents: Ask more questions. If you have a voice, use it. Get outspoken, and let’s get some like-minded folks coming together to finally fix it. So much has been swept under the rug for so long. It is past time for action. Maybe the national attention will help.