As efforts continue to impede saltwater wedge, governor seeks federal emergency declaration
ALLIANCE, La. (WVUE) - In an effort to address the encroaching saltwater wedge making its way upriver, the Army Corps of Engineers on Monday (Sept. 25) began work to raise and augment an underwater sill.
While the project is expected to slow down the progression of the saltwater intrusion, it may not completely halt it.
The saltwater wedge, currently situated at Jesuit Bend, is advancing upriver at a rate of approximately one mile per day. It is anticipated to reach the Algiers intake in Orleans Parish by Oct. 22.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday asked President Biden for a federal emergency declaration over the saltwater intrusion. Once approved, that would provide federal financial assistance to reimburse state and local authorities for ongoing response and mitigation measures. It would also authorize additional assistance from federal agencies.
“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,” Edwards said in a statement. “We have had discussions with FEMA about the unique challenges we face with this event. We are optimistic the president will approve our federal emergency declaration, which will be crucial to help our communities along the lower Mississippi River.”
The Corps of Engineers is taking measures to combat this issue by raising the existing underwater sill in Alliance by 25 feet, with an augmented channel to allow for marine traffic.
Nevertheless, experts predict that the saltwater’s relentless march upriver will continue at its current pace.
Mark Davis, a water resources expert at Tulane University, emphasized the need for a regional approach.
“Freshwater and salt mingle here. We have to get better as to how we manage it,” Davis said. “I would rather plan for it than react to it.”
Residents in Plaquemines Parish have been grappling with the effects of the intrusion for the past five months, with significant consequences for local businesses.
“We turned the ice machines off in April when we saw all the ice was white and full of salt,” said Byron Marinovich, with the Black Velvet Restaurant in Buras.
This isn’t the first time the Corps has addressed saltwater intrusion. In 1988, during a water emergency threatening the Orleans Parish drinking water supply, a sill was strategically placed, yielding immediate results, according to Marvin Russell, a retired Water Purification Director for the Orleans Sewerage and Water Board.
Given the present river conditions, the heightened underwater sill is expected to slow the saltwater’s advance but may not entirely stop it.
In response, various actions are being taken, including the installation of new desalination units for Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes.
Plaquemines has also initiated work to connect to the Orleans water supply. Additionally, the Corps is planning to introduce barges filled with freshwater to supplement water systems in Orleans and Jefferson, tentatively scheduled for late October.
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