Plaquemines Parish fights second saltwater threat as river flow declines; water supply at risk

Published: Jun. 21, 2023 at 8:51 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Plaquemines Parish officials worry that natural cuts in the riverbank are contributing to an unusually low river flow, which is causing headaches in the southern part of the parish. Saltwater is making its way up the river, threatening water supplies, for the second time in less than a year.

You may recall last October that low river levels were causing ships to run aground in the Mississippi River and causing salt water to work its way north, impacting water supplies.

Now, for the second time, in less than nine months, that is taking place in the Boothville-Venice area, where parish officials say salt water levels tripled in a 24-hour period a couple of days ago and they are now having to truck water and ice down to fire stations in Buras and Boothville-Venice.

They are advising people with health conditions not to drink the water because of the high salt levels and they say they are looking to bring in special equipment to process the salty water for the long haul. Some worry that natural river bank cuts have opened up in places like Neptune Pass and Fort St Philip, contributing to the low river flow and the salt water wedge, now moving upriver once again.

“The river doesn’t flow as fast as it used to, we have so many crevices open, Mardi Gras pass,” said Plaquemines Parish president Keith Hinkley.

“When we’re looking at the 28 day forecast, we expect the wedge may move to around mile 27 of the river but it’s really has to get up to mile 80 in the forecast for us to look at building something such as a salt water sill,” said Ricky Boyet, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Last October, the Corps of Engineers spent $10 million to build an underwater saltwater sill to stop the gulf water wedge, from moving up the river. That sill washed away as designed when the river levels rose to normal in December. Plaquemines officials are seeking a permanent solution and are asking the Corps of Engineers for help, some thing which the corps has done in the past.

They say it may be time to close, the natural occurring cuts, to preserve the freshwater flow of the river. They are also looking at bringing permanent desalination plants to remove salt from the water.

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