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Saltwater Intrusion Prompts Louisiana Governor to Seek Federal Emergency Declaration

Communities along the Mississippi River have been relying on bottled water for drinking and cooking for months.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has urged President Joe Biden to help address the saltwater intrusion in the lower Mississippi River region, with his office submitting a request for a Federal Emergency Declaration on Sept. 25.

In a press release Monday, the Democrat governor said he was optimistic the president would approve the emergency declaration, which he said would be crucial to help communities affected by the crisis who have relied on bottled water for drinking and cooking for months.

If approved, the declaration would provide federal assistance to reimburse the state’s ongoing response and temporary mitigation efforts and grant additional federal aid to help with the issue.

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Mr. Edwards’ request (pdf) comes after New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell signed an emergency declaration on Sept. 23.

“We will continue to work with our partners locally and state-wide as we closely monitor this situation,” Ms. Cantrell wrote on X.

An extended lack of rainfall in Louisiana and across the Mississippi River Valley in recent months has caused the rate of freshwater flowing down the Mississippi River to decline, while saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico has quickly started to creep in, according to officials.

Put simply, the extended drought conditions have resulted in a river flow that no longer provides enough powerful pressure to prevent denser saltwater from moving upriver.

According to Mr. Edwards’ office, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted river surveys and learned that the saltwater wedge overtopped an underwater sill at river mile marker 63.8 near Alliance, Louisiana, on Sept. 20.

That sill is being upgraded and is a temporary measure to mitigate the saltwater intrusion.

A commercial barge sits in its dock along the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tenn., on Oct. 20, 2022. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)
A commercial barge sits in its dock along the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tenn., on Oct. 20, 2022. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

More Communities Will Likely Be Affected

The Army Corps of Engineers began working on the underwater sill on Sunday, Matt Roe, a spokesperson for the Army Corps, told NBC affiliate WDSU. That sill, which was originally built in July to slow the intrusion, will increase the height of the river bottom by 25 feet and should slow saltwater spread by 10 to 15 days.

“I want to thank everyone at the state and local level who have been leading this fight, along with our partners at the Army Corps of Engineers,” the governor said in a statement.

Multiple communities in south Louisiana, including New Orleans, rely on the river’s fresh water for everything from drinking to cleaning, with their water intake treatment facilities located along the river.

However, water advisories have been issued in parts of Plaquemines Parish since June, and officials say more areas are projected to be affected over the next month, including St. Bernard Parish, Jefferson Parish, and Orleans Parish.

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