NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — Leaders in New Orleans, Jefferson Parish and St. Bernard Parish are preparing now for the saltwater intrusion that’s inching up the Mississippi River.
Drought conditions caused the water level in the river to drop, which allowed saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico to creep in over the summer.
In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it was constructing an underwater sill in an effort to slow the saltwater wedge’s progress up the river.
President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration on Sept. 27, which will direct federal resources and assistance to the state.
A release from the White House said, “Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.”
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers predicts the saltwater will make its way to Algiers in Orleans Parish in about 25 days. It could reach Jefferson Parish is about a month.
Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes receive drinking water from the river, so leaders of each area are preparing now for what’s to come.
The drinking water in the three parishes remains safe to drink for the time being.
The Jefferson Parish Emergency Management team is working with grocery stores to make sure enough water is making it to store shelves.
St. Bernard Parish
St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said on Sept. 27 that the parish plans to use $15 million of its Hurricane Ida recovery funding to get the ball rolling.
The Army Corps of Engineers estimates saltwater will begin affecting St. Bernard on October 19.
In the meantime, McInnis says they’re testing the water every day and are thankful for the help they’re getting from other parishes.
“To barge in water, to connect to the city, and to bring in these reverse osmosis units is going to cost money. Now we have that secured through November. We are hard at work knowing we have the funds,” says McInnis.
Jefferson Parish leaders say they’re studying the situation each day. Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said on Sept. 27 that the parish produces nearly 70 million gallons of water every day, but when using reverse osmosis, the parish can only produce about 320,000 per day.
New Orleans/Orleans Parish
During her weekly news conference on Sept. 27, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell said the emergency declaration will allow the state to be more proactive about the situation.
Plaquemines Parish President Keith Hinkley said on Sept. 27 that the parish acquired reverse osmosis machines for each water treatment facility. Some of them are expected to arrive this week.
In total, the Boothville-Venice plant will need a one-million-gallon machine, the Port Sulphur facility will need two, Belle Chase will need five, the Delacour plant on the east bank needs one and the east Pointe a la Hache facility needs one half-million-gallon machine, all coming in 18-wheeler size trailers.
Each machine costs roughly $50,000 per month per half a million gallons. The emergency declaration will help pay for some of it.
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