Infrastructure issues shouldn’t be put off like a bad habit

Published 3:57 pm Friday, September 9, 2022

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I have this bad habit of hanging onto things that are past their prime.

I accidentally snapped the frame on my favorite pair of sunglasses back in January, but then I simply kept wearing them for the next five months after that until I finally went to get new ones. They still mostly worked at shading my eyes from the sunlight as long as I put them on delicately enough that the lens didn’t fall out. And because they still mostly worked, I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. (I’d also had them since high school, so I was a bit upset about breaking them too.)

That’s not the only example either. I held onto my first laptop for a solid 12 years before it finally gave up and quit functioning. No one could say that the computer didn’t make a valiant effort to hang on as long as possible. It ran on a glitchy version of Windows Vista, was held together in some parts by packing tape, no longer had a functioning microphone or CD drive, and sounded (in the words of my brother) “like an airplane taking off” when it was running. It definitely had its downsides (obviously), but at the time, it felt like it would be easier to deal with than the headache of buying something new.

Like I said, it’s a bad habit.

But no matter how reluctant I am to let go of any of my semi-functioning possessions, I tend to adjust fine to the replacements when I finally get them. The new sunglasses fit much better than my old ones, and my current laptop saves me lots of time by not needing a full 10 minutes to boot up. In hindsight, I always wonder why it took me so long to upgrade.

Sometimes, you just have to make the hard decision to retire those old half-broken things.

This was on my mind when Jackson, Mississippi – the state’s capital city – was catapulted to national headlines recently. Extensive flooding of the river which runs through the city led to problems at the main water treatment facility. The result left the city of over 150,000 residents without access to safe, clean water.

A whole city without something as vital to life as water? That caught plenty of people’s attention. It sounds a bit dystopian, right? Something out of a novel and not something that would happen in real life.

As I read more and more reporting about the issue, it appears that the water system infrastructure issues in Jackson, MS came as no surprise to anyone who lives there. Before the treatment facility failure, the city was already under a boil water advisory. Last winter, prolonged freezing temperatures resulted in broken pipes and water mains which dropped the water pressure throughout the city. Similar crises have apparently been happening for years. Local nonprofits are used to delivering bottled water to neighborhoods around the city.

I can’t pretend to know all the details of the city’s system, but aging infrastructure seems to be a key part of the problem. According to reporting from NPR, some parts of the water system are over 100 years old. With a quarter of residents living in poverty, it’s clear that the tax base alone isn’t enough to cover the costs of fixing all the issues the system is plagued with.

Politicians at the local and state level, of course, have spent a lot of time recently pointing fingers at each other, trying to pin blame on either side of the aisle. But to me, that seems like a waste of time when the real issue should be working towards more permanent fixes and finding the money to pay for it. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, right?

The real reason the Jackson, Mississippi story caught my attention was that it felt like a glimpse of something that could happen anywhere, even close to home. Aging infrastructure is not unusual here in our local communities. I’ve sat in on many meetings of the Murfreesboro Town Council where they discussed how to tackle various water/sewer problems around town. Recently, I reported on a meeting between Northampton County’s commissioners and mayors from the county’s municipalities. Aging infrastructure was the biggest topic of discussion during that meeting as they discussed various issues they’d like to address. And I’m sure there are other local examples I haven’t personally heard about too.

I’m glad to see that many leaders are aware of local infrastructure problems and are doing what they can to prevent failures in the future. But it also seems like the costs of fixing anything these days is exorbitant, so there’s no easy road ahead for anyone.

I don’t have a solution, but I know infrastructure is an issue that needs continual focus as we move forward. If I hang onto broken sunglasses and a laptop that’s literally falling apart, the only person who suffers is myself. But a failing water system is going to affect many more people than that.

The people of Jackson, Mississippi deserve clean, safe water. And so does everyone else. We cannot live without it.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.