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Drinking water could become too salty to drink in New Orleans

The governor of Louisiana asked President Biden on Monday to declare a federal emergency as salt water intrudes on the Mississippi River.
Drinking water could become too salty to drink in New Orleans
Posted at 12:25 PM, Sep 26, 2023

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards requested that President Joe Biden declare a federal emergency as salt water intrudes the lower Mississippi River region due to a prolonged drought. 

Edwards said the extended drought has caused a historically low flow of water from the Mississippi River, allowing salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to make its way upstream. 

Edwards said coastal Plaquemines Parish has already been affected by the salt water incursion, and the New Orleans area will eventually be impacted. 

"The Louisiana Department of Health noted the severe health risks associated with saltwater intrusion," Edwards said in his letter to Biden. "Saltwater can make drinking water unsafe, especially for vulnerable people including but not limited to people with kidney disease, high blood pressure, people on a low-sodium diet, dialysis patients, infants and pregnant women."

Edwards is calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to install reverse osmosis systems and other support to help provide potable water. 

"I want to thank everyone at the state and local level who have been leading this fight, along with our partners at the Army Corps of Engineers," said Edwards. "We have had discussions with FEMA about the unique challenges we face with this event. We are optimistic the President will approve our Federal Emergency Declaration, which will be crucial to help our communities along the lower Mississippi River."

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Tammy Lynn Lemon is a resident of Belle Chasse, Louisiana, and she's one of many people in the community buying up cases of water in response to worries of higher levels of sodium chloride in the water system.

"I'm coming to get some water, so I can use it to cook with and to drink," she said.  

The Army Corp of Engineers says it is working to bring as much as 36 million gallons of fresh river water into the New Orleans area to dilute the saltiness to safe levels.

The Army Corps of Engineers built an underwater barrier called a sill to create a basin to stop the salt water.

But the low level of the fresh water in the Mississippi is no longer capable of preventing the sea water from moving in. That's created unsafe levels of saline at municipal water intakes. 

Experts say the saltwater wedge is moving around 1 1/2 miles upriver every day.

And while the Army Corp of Engineers is building barriers higher near the banks, they can't build them too high or they will block ship traffic.

Salt water could reach New Orleans by Oct. 10, forecasters warn.

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