As Gulf of Mexico saltwater intrusion threatens the lower Mississippi River drinking water supply in New Orleans, the US Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to barge 36 million gallons of fresh water daily.
This preventive measure comes amidst dropping water levels for the second consecutive year due to a combination of scorching summer temperatures and low rainfall, resulting in an extreme drought in various parts of the central US.
The diminishing water levels have exacerbated the risk of saltwater intrusion, especially in Louisiana, where ocean water threatens to infiltrate the freshwater systems unhindered by the typically robust flow of the Mississippi River.
Officials in New Orleans are bracing for the anticipated effects of saltwater intrusion in late October, with a caveat that the timeline could change.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards warned that the Mississippi River will reach “historic lows” in the coming weeks.
To counter this threat, the state and the Army Corps of Engineers are collaborating to elevate an underwater levee in the Mississippi River by an additional 25 feet.
This levee was initially constructed in July to slow down the advancement of salt water into the river’s lower levels.
Furthermore, the Army Corps of Engineers intends to transport millions of gallons of water daily to local water treatment facilities.
The project builds upon last year’s announcement of a plan to construct a sill, a dam created by dredging sediment from the river’s bottom to deter saltwater intrusion.
Securing New Orleans’ Water Supply Amidst Saltwater Threat
Typically, increased rainfall upstream helps alleviate drought conditions and prevents saltwater intrusion.
However, Governor Edwards noted that there needs to be more precipitation expected in the near term along the Mississippi River to improve conditions significantly.
During a news conference, Army Col. Cullen Jones estimated that it would take roughly 24 days to bolster the sill’s height.
Once completed, this enhancement is expected to delay saltwater intrusion by 10 to 15 days.
Initial measures include the transportation of 15 million gallons of fresh water as early as next week, with the area ultimately requiring 36 million gallons daily to mitigate the issue effectively.
The water will be mixed at treatment centers to ensure safety for consumption.
In response, Governor Edwards announced plans to deliver bulk bottled water to the New Orleans area.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell declared an emergency for the city due to saltwater intrusion, enabling city agencies to prepare and respond while facilitating the deployment of resources by state and federal agencies for a more efficient response.
While Plaquemines Parish President W. Keith Hinkley had previously reported the distribution of clean water to approximately 2,000 affected residents.
Governor Edwards emphasized that there is no need to stockpile large quantities of bottled water.
He reassured the public that there is ample bottled water available within the state and across the country, ensuring a steady provision of this essential resource as needed.