Louisiana Governor Addresses Growing Saltwater Intrusion Threat

Published 9:31 am Monday, September 25, 2023

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On September 22, Governor John Bel Edwards convened a modified Unified Command Group (UCG) meeting in New Orleans to discuss the escalating saltwater intrusion threat in the Lower Mississippi River region. The gathering included several parish presidents and representatives from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

According to the current National Weather Service Mississippi River forecast, the river volume is expected to reach historic lows in the coming weeks. This phenomenon allows saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico to intrude upstream, impacting Plaquemines Parish since June. The persisting drought conditions worsen the situation, potentially affecting additional communities along the Mississippi River.

In response, GOHSEP has launched the website Emergency.la.gov, providing accurate information about saltwater intrusion.

“Unfortunately, despite efforts to mitigate the problems by the Army Corps of Engineers, the saltwater intrusion is progressing further up the river due to the persistent dry weather,” Governor Edwards stated. He emphasized the collaboration between local, state, and federal partners to determine necessary support and protective measures for water systems and intake points. Governor Edwards urged the public to rely on credible sources for updates and to avoid misinformation.

The USACE took action in July 2023 by constructing an underwater barrier sill, creating an artificial basin to delay saltwater intrusion. However, the intrusion surpassed the sill’s elevation earlier this week. Additional work will commence to slow the progression of intrusion further.

“The Corps of Engineers is committed to supporting the state and local response to extreme low-water conditions within our authority,” stated Col. Cullen Jones, USACE New Orleans District commander. The USACE plans to augment the existing underwater sill to delay saltwater progress and establish the ability to barge freshwater to municipal water treatment facilities, ensuring the production of safe drinking water.

Saltwater intrusion threatens the drinking water quality for parishes with water intakes along the Mississippi River in affected areas. No changes in drinking water for parishes upriver from Plaquemines Parish until mid-to-late October are anticipated. Water systems likely to be affected eventually include St. Bernard, Orleans, and Jefferson parishes.

LDH, responsible for regulating all water systems in Louisiana, is closely monitoring changes through water testing and will guide emergency.la.gov/saltwater. Information about actions to take post-saltwater intrusion and precautions for vulnerable populations will be available. LDH will continue issuing guidance for the public and healthcare providers while monitoring drinking water quality in collaboration with water systems.

GOHSEP, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and LDH work closely with local officials to coordinate support for all impacted areas during these challenging conditions.