How Can New Orleans Residents Prepare for the Saltwater Intrusion?

“View of Mississippi River, Natchez, Mississippi” by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Near record-low water levels on the Mississippi River have New Orleans officials rushing to deal with a saltwater wedge making its way up from the Gulf of Mexico. On Monday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards requested a federal emergency declaration for Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Jefferson, and Orleans Parishes in an attempt to procure federal help before the saltwater reaches treatment plants serving tens of thousands of residents.

“With the current projections, it should be noted that almost 20% of the state could be impacted by this event,” Edwards said. According to the emergency request, the saltwater intrusion could last until January 2024.

When will the saltwater reach New Orleans?

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the saltwater wedge is forecast to reach inundation points at the following locations and dates:

  • Belle Chasse – Oct. 13
  • Dalcor – Oct. 15
  • St. Bernard – Oct. 19
  • Algiers – Oct. 22
  • Gretna – Oct. 24
  • West Jefferson – Oct. 25
  • Westwego – Oct. 26
  • Carrollton – Oct. 28
  • East Jefferson – Oct. 29

It’s important to remember that these dates don’t necessarily mean that the areas tap water will be unsafe for use or drinking on these dates. Any notices regarding water safety will come from local officials. This timeline could also change based on weather conditions upstream (heavy rain upstream could slow the intrusion), as well as progress on the construction of a higher underwater levee meant to slow the saltwater wedge.

How should residents prepare?

The important thing for residents to do is to stay informed and stay calm. Currently, all New Orleans water is safe to drink. While Plaquemines Parish has relied on bottled water to replace drinking water since June, Point a la Hache should receive a reverse osmosis unit capable of filtering saltwater this week. That unit should be operational by next week. Additional units have been requested for St. Bernard, Orleans, and Jefferson Parishes.

In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers will begin shipping 15 millions gallons of freshwater per day to affected treatment facilities beginning next week. That number will be raised to 36 million gallons per day as the need increases.

“We’re going to do what we always do in an emergency situation. We are going to go big and go quick,” Edwards said. “We can scale back later.”

Currently, officials are urging residents not to overstock on bottled water. There is no national shortage, and stores should have no problems restocking water as needed. However, Edwards also urged residents to leave tap water for drinking in the coming weeks.

“We’ve got to make sure that people have drinking water; we ought not be out there watering our lawns with it,” Edwards said.

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