UNITED STATES NEWS

A salty problem for people near the mouth of the Mississippi is a wakeup call for New Orleans

Oct 26, 2023, 10:00 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The heating element removed from Monique Plaisance’s water heater in September was disintegrating, streaked with rust and covered in a dry crust. She blamed the corrosion on the water piped in from the area’s longtime drinking water source: the Mississippi River.

It was a similar story not far away at the Black Velvet Oyster Bar and Grill.

“We’re draining the hot water heater every few days to get most, or a good bit, of the salt out of that,” owner Byron Marinovich said. “The ice machine has been off since the third week of April.”

Plaisance’s home and Marinovich’s restaurant are in the Buras community of rural Plaquemines Parish, roughly 60 miles (about 96 kilometers) southeast of New Orleans and 20 to 30 miles (32 to 48 kilometers) upriver from where the Mississippi flows into the Gulf of Mexico. As in New Orleans, drinking water in the parish is drawn from the river.

But this year, the gulf pushed back. A wedge of salt water slipped up along the river bottom, beginning in the spring.

By early October, water intakes at towns such as Boothville, Port Sulphur and Pointe a la Hache had been inundated.

Plaquemines officials list a variety of measures to provide drinkable water to residents in the southeastern part of the parish, which juts into the gulf. Trucks of bottled water for drinking and barges full of fresh water to dilute the salt water before it goes into intakes are among the solutions.

Advisories against drinking tap water were lifted Oct. 18.

Plaisance and Marinovich are among residents who think remedial efforts began too late. They blame parish officials for not taking action until the water began posing a threat to more populated areas including the city of Belle Chasse, which is at the parish’s northernmost end and home to more than 10,000 people, roughly half the population of the mostly rural parish.

“We’ve been working on this since June the 19th,” Parish President Keith Hinkley said in a telephone interview. “We have not drug our feet. We moved as fast as we could in getting these projects up and running. We made a decision to get a water station, water plant, back up and running that had been down for two years. We got it back up in a position to start producing water in somewhere between six to eight weeks.”

Authorities cite multiple factors for the salt water intrusion. Most prominent this year has been a drought across the Midwest that has meant less water flowing into the Mississippi and the rivers feeding it.

At Vicksburg, Mississippi, north of New Orleans, the river flowed at a rate about 50% slower and at a stage height about 95% lower than normal during late September and early October between 2013 and 2022, according to analysis of data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin — all part of the vast Mississippi River basin, which touches 31 statesare experiencing extreme drought conditions. Rainfall amounts are down in the watershed of the Ohio River, which contributes half of the Mississippi’s flow reaching new Orleans.

Another factor is dredging, according to Stephen Murphy, an assistant professor at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the director of the university’s Disaster Management Program. The lower Mississippi is frequently dredged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make way for huge cargo ships serving ports vital to the Louisiana and national economies.

The lower, slower river flow and a deep, wide river channel set the stage for gulf water to push inland.

Earlier in the fall, projections that the salt water would reach the New Orleans area by late October prompted residents to stock up on bottled water while public officials undertook emergency preparations as though there were a slowly approaching hurricane.

In Jefferson Parish, next to New Orleans, officials began laying out flexible piping resembling giant fire hoses in a plan to pipe water from farther up the Mississippi to dilute the salt water.

New Orleans officials also were working on a plan to build an emergency pipeline. The hope was that much of the projected cost, as high as $250 million, would be covered by the federal government under a presidential emergency declaration issued in September.

Updated projections have negated the need for the measure. The more favorable river forecasts are a result of various factors, including the Corps’ construction of what amounts to an underwater dam in Plaquemines to impede salt water progress. Recent rains in western Louisiana also have been a factor.

While the threat to the New Orleans area has been diminished, local leaders say it’s a wake-up call.

“If this is what we’re going to be facing every couple of years, we certainly want to make an investment in how to solve this problem,” Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said.

This is the fifth year the Corps has built an underwater structure to slow the salt water flow. But this is the first time sill construction has been used in consecutive years. Before last year, others were built in 1988, 1999 and 2012.

Rising seas portend more problems. The sea level around New Orleans is rising at a rate of as much as 9 millimeters (0.35 inches) per year, or three feet (about 1 meter) each century, much higher than the global average and the highest rate measured in the United States, according to experts at NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services.

“My worry is we continue to experience these low river flow rates and have a repeat occurrence year after year after year. And at some point I worry that that salt water wedge could creep further upriver and then we would be finding ourselves in the same predicament upriver as we are right now in the city,” said Murphy, the assistant professor.

In the New Orleans area, permanent pipelines to draw water from upriver have been discussed. But Murphy doesn’t think pipelines are the solution.

Large-scale reverse osmosis filtration systems may be the answer, Murphy said. He pointed to Tampa Bay, Florida, as an example of where desalinization is used for drinking water and said Gulf Coast communities should collaborate to find ways to safeguard water systems.

It also may be time to hold regional meetings to discuss the threat, Murphy said.

“Maybe we should all start partnering together, much like we do for hurricane conferences,” he said. “Maybe we should be talking about climate change conferences.”

___

Smith reported from New Orleans and Buras, Louisiana. Associated Press reporters Mary Katherine Wildeman in Hartford, Connecticut, and Camille Fassett, in Seattle contributed to this report.

United States News

Most Americans are sleepy new Gallup poll finds...

Associated Press

Most Americans say they don’t get enough sleep, according to new Gallup poll

A new Gallup poll found that most Americans are sleepy — or, at least, they say they are. Multiple factors play into this.

2 hours ago

Near-total abortion ban in Arizona dates back to Civil War era...

Associated Press

Near-total abortion ban dates back to 1864, during the Civil War, before Arizona was a state

The near-total abortion ban resurrected last week by the Arizona Supreme Court dates to 1864, when settlers were encroaching on tribal lands.

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Abu Ghraib detainee shares emotional testimony during trial against Virginia military contractor

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A former detainee at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison described to jurors Monday the type of abuse that is reminiscent of the scandal that erupted there 20 years ago: beatings, being stripped naked and threatened with dogs, stress positions meant to induce exhaustion and pain. The testimony from Salah Al-Ejaili, a […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Judge orders psych evaluation for Illinois man charged in 4 killings

ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) — A judge on Monday ordered a psychiatric evaluation for a northern Illinois man charged with killing four people and injuring seven others by stabbing, beating and driving over them. Winnebago County Judge Debra Schafer ordered the evaluation for Christian Soto when the 22-year-old man appeared in court by video link for […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

NASA confirms mystery object that crashed through roof of Florida home came from space station

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — NASA confirmed Monday that a mystery object that crashed through the roof of a Florida home last month was a chunk of space junk from equipment discarded at the International Space Station. The cylindrical object that tore through the home in Naples on March 8 was subsequently taken to the Kennedy […]

5 hours ago

Follow @ktar923...

Sponsored Content by Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

Sponsored Articles

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

A salty problem for people near the mouth of the Mississippi is a wakeup call for New Orleans