New Orleans bracing for major threat to drinking water supply
Salt water creeping up the Mississippi River is threatening the drinking water supply in New Orleans for the first time in more than 30 years.
Why it matters: The water supply for more than 1.2 million people is expected to become unsafe to drink by late October.
- President Biden declared the situation a national emergency last week.
- If contaminated, it could be weeks or months before freshwater returns, unless there is significant rainfall, leaders say.
Catch up quick: A drought across the Mississippi River Valley means salt water from the Gulf of Mexico is coming upriver, threatening drinking water supplies in New Orleans and two nearby parishes.
- Many municipalities in southeast Louisiana, including New Orleans, pull their drinking water from the river.
- Communities further south have had salt in their water since June.
- The Army Corps of Engineers expects the saltwater intrusion to reach New Orleans by Oct. 22. Officials are working on plans to mitigate water disruption.
Driving the news: A massive reverse osmosis machine that desalinates water is being installed in Plaquemines Parish, just southeast of New Orleans, and two more machines are on the way.
- But these units won't be able to produce enough water to meet the demand in metro New Orleans.
Plans to protect the drinking water include building 10- to 15-mile-long pipelines to draw water from further upriver.
- Gov. John Bel Edwards approved plans Friday for Jefferson Parish, which includes suburbs west and south of New Orleans, to build multiple pipelines. Construction could start this week.
- New Orleans' pipeline plans also were approved Friday but details haven't been released yet.
- In other parts of the region, the Army Corps of Engineers will barge in water for dilution.
Threat level: Salt water is not safe to drink for humans or animals, and it can damage crops.
- It's also corrosive and could damage pipes and appliances. Much of New Orleans' water infrastructure consists of lead and iron piping.
- Louisiana's top medical official is concerned about the salt causing heavy metals to leach into the drinking water supply.