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New Orleans braces for saltwater intrusion impacting drinking supply

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Saltwater intruding upstream from the Gulf of Mexico into a drought-affected Mississippi River is alarming leaders in New Orleans and across Louisiana. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) requested a federal emergency declaration from President Joe Biden on Monday, just days after New Orleans’ Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) signed an emergency declaration of its own.

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The saltwater is already impacting the drinking water in multiple sections in the southeastern portion of the state and could impact New Orleans’ supply within weeks. The saltwater wedge is expected to reach the city around Oct. 22. Officials say the river’s volume is forecast to fall to historic lows with minimal rainfall on the way.

This is not the time to buy large amounts of bottled water…there is not a shortage of bottled water around the state or around the country.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D)

In July, the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers built an underwater sill — or levee — to delay the saltwater’s arrival, but that has already been overtaken by the intruding water.

The Army Corps is working to extend the height of the sill over the next three weeks which should delay the saltwater’s intrusion by 10 to 15 days. The Corps is also planning to ship up to 15 million gallons of fresh water to dilute the salt at water treatment plants.

“There is no need for panic. We just need to make sure that we are aware of the situation, that we don’t do anything that would exacerbate it. And if we bring to bear anything that we reasonably can as soon as we can to help us get through this period of time,” Gov. Edwards said. “This is not the time to buy large amounts of bottled water…there is not a shortage of bottled water around the state or around the country.”

Saltwater can be dangerous to humans if too much is ingested, especially to certain populations — people with high blood pressure, those who are pregnant in their third trimester where there is a higher risk for hypertension, and infants.

“You will stop drinking the water because it doesn’t taste right well before it becomes a danger to your health,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state medical officer.

Salt can also corrode and damage pipes leading to harmful chemicals like lead contaminating the water supply.  

Smaller communities already affected by the intrusion are using reverse osmosis to remove the saltwater. Officials in New Orleans — with a population of nearly 370,000 — are looking at different methods, including having fresh water piped in from systems upriver.

The last time saltwater reached the New Orleans metro area was in 1988. Though that water emergency lasted two days, officials say this one could last months.

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NEW ORLEANS IS BRACING FOR THE WORST AS SALTWATER FROM THE GULF OF MEXICO IS INTRUDING UPSTREAM INTO THE DROUGHT-AFFECTED MISSISSIPPI RIVER – POTENTIALLY IMPACTING THE CITY’S DRINKING SUPPLY WITHIN WEEKS.

OTHER COMMUNITIES IN LOUISIANA CLOSER TO THE GULF ARE ALREADY DEALING WITH SALTWATER AFFECTING THEIR DRINKING SUPPLY.

NEW ORLEANS’ MAYOR LATOYA CANTRELL SIGNED AN EMERGENCY DECLARATION ON SATURDAY – FOLLOWED TWO DAYS LATER BY LOUISIANA GOVERNOR BEL EDWARDS REQUESTING A FEDERAL EMERGENCY DECLARATION. 

OFFICIALS SAY THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER’S VOLUME IS EXPECTED TO FALL TO HISTORIC LOWS IN THE NEXT SEVERAL WEEKS WITH MINIMAL RAINFALL IN THE FORECAST.

BUT THE GOVERNOR TOLD RESIDENTS THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR PANIC-BUYING OF BOTTLED WATER.  

“THERE IS NO NEED FOR PANIC. WE JUST NEED TO MAKE SURE THAT WE ARE AWARE OF THE SITUATION, THAT WE DON’T DO ANYTHING THAT WOULD EXACERBATE IT. AND IF WE BRING TO BEAR ANYTHING THAT WE REASONABLY CAN AS SOON AS WE CAN TO HELP US GET THROUGH THIS PERIOD OF TIME”

IN JULY – THE US ARMY CORP OF ENGINEERS BUILT AN UNDERWATER SILL – A LEVEE – TO DELAY THE SALTWATER’S MOVEMENT UPRIVER BUT THE SALTWATER WEDGE HAS ALREADY OVERTOPPED THAT BARRIER. THE CORP IS WORKING TO EXTEND THE HEIGHT OF THE SILL OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL WEEKS.