PLAQUEMINES PARISH, La. (WGNO) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent the day showing their efforts to prevent the saltwater wedge in the Mississippi River from moving upstream.

It is a problem that residents are becoming increasingly worried about.

“We started this augmentation on Saturday, and we think it’s going to take about 24 days to complete,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Chief of Operations Keith Jones said. “This action is designed to protect the freshwater intakes that are further upstream.”

In July 2023, engineers created a sill that reached -55 feet. However, nearly a week ago, the sill overtopped, and more seawater began moving into the river’s fresh water.

Now, engineers are working to raise the sill to -33 feet. Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say the augmentation will help delay drinking water issues by 10 to 15 days.

“The sill is not going to be a magic stopping of the saltwater,” Jones said. “We’re combining that with other mitigation efforts like barging water and reverse osmosis machines at some of these plants. The parish and the state are doing their own thing.” 

Engineer crews told WGNO they created a “notch” to allow mariners to navigate. Currently, the Corps of Engineers is working on transporting fresh water to impacted areas, using barges. Reverse osmosis is something they’re using to lower the salt content.

“The smallest plant that we provided reverse osmosis for is three tractor-trailers full of equipment,” said Jones. “These are not small do it yourself type machines. This is serious equipment that we have trucked in from all over the country at this point.” 

Drought conditions are the main reason river levels are so low. Crews said they are constantly monitoring the levels to see if, and when anything might change.

“The goal is all these mitigation efforts will hopefully add up and protect the drinking supply upstream,” Jones said. 

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