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Saltwater intrusion in Mississippi River could impact drinking water in Louisiana, officials say

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A saltwater intrusion in the Mississippi River poses a threat to Louisiana's water supply. The river has low water levels due to drought conditions allowing an intrusion.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has signed an emergency declaration over an intrusion of saltwater into the Mississippi River that officials say could impact the water supply in the region.

"We will continue to work with our partners locally and state-wide as we closely monitor this situation," Cantrell wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Officials said weather forecasts indicate that river volume will fall to historic lows in the next several weeks. As a result, saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico is intruding upstream in Louisiana.

"Plaquemines Parish has been affected by this issue since June. Drought conditions have only gotten worse since that time, which means additional communities along the Mississippi River could be impacted," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement Friday.

PHOTO: In this July 21, 2023, file photo, a tugboat with barges navigates around a sandbar during a period of low water level in the Mississippi River, in West Feliciana Parish, La.
In this July 21, 2023, file photo, a tugboat with barges navigates around a sandbar during a period of low water level in the Mississippi River, in West Feliciana Parish, La.
Gerald Herbert/AP, FILE

Intruding saltwater at the Boothville Water Treatment Plant water intake in Plaquemines Parish is impacting the drinking water supply to residents and businesses from Empire to Venice in southeastern Louisiana, local officials said.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed an underwater barrier sill in July to create an artificial basin to help delay the ingress of saltwater. The upriver intrusion of saltwater overtopped the sill's elevation earlier this week.

Edwards said additional work will begin soon to further delay an increase of the saltwater intrusion.

PHOTO: In this aerial photo, a tugboat pushing barges navigates between and around sandbars during low water levels on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, La., and Reserve, La. in Livingston Parish, La., on Sept. 14, 2023.
In this aerial photo, a tugboat pushing barges navigates between and around sandbars during low water levels on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, La., and Reserve, La. in Livingston Parish, La., on Sept. 14, 2023.
Gerald Herbert/AP

Next week, officials will begin making the existing sill larger to further delay the saltwater intrusion by an estimated 10 to 15 days.

The river's water level is forecast to continue to drop and very minimal rainfall to mitigate the circumstances is expected. Local, state and federal officials are working to determine what can be done to protect water systems and water intake points.

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PHOTO: Barges float in the Mississippi River as a portion of the riverbed is exposed, on Sept. 15, 2023, in St. Louis.
Barges float in the Mississippi River as a portion of the riverbed is exposed, on Sept. 15, 2023, in St. Louis.
Jeff Roberson/AP

"Unfortunately, without any relief from the dry weather we are starting to see the saltwater intrusion creep further up the river despite efforts to mitigate the problems by the Army Corps of Engineers," Edwards said.

"Most importantly, this is not a time to panic or listen to misinformation," he added. "We have been through this situation before in 1988, and we are monitoring this situation very closely and applying the lessons learned. It is extremely important for the public to stay informed and only rely on credible sources for updates during this event."

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