Orleans Parish officials discuss building water pipeline from Kenner to bypass saltwater wedge
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -- Orleans Parish officials are planning to build a freshwater pipeline from Kenner to New Orleans to help deal with the saltwater wedge emergency. They also are exploring the possibility of bringing in large tanker ships filled with fresh water, and potentially drilling water wells.
When it comes to the threat of saltwater infiltrating the New Orleans water system, the river at Kenner could save the day.
“We’ve been advised by the Army Corps of Engineers there’s a large geologic feature at Kenner. It will stop the saltwater wedge, and that would make a natural stopping point for us,” said Steve Nelson, with the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans.
Orleans officials are making plans to build a 14-mile water pipeline connecting the river at Kenner to the Orleans intake station in Carrollton, but it won’t be cheap.
“We’ve been in discussions,” Nelson said. “We have an engineer on board and we have what we believe is a viable plan.”
The preference is to make the pipeline permanent, so that it helps not only in the coming months but also to help mitigate future emergencies. Officials said they also are exploring the possibility of bringing in large tanker ships filled with fresh water to help maintain low saltwater levels on the east bank of New Orleans.
According to the World Health Organization, the average taste threshold for sodium (as sodium chloride) at room temperature is about 200 mg per liter. Seawater, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, contains about 30,000 mg/L. The content usually found in the freshwater Mississippi River is about 20 mg/L. Significant rainfall upriver is needed to flush the creeping, denser salt water back into the Gulf of Mexico.
“When you look at the current National Weather Service forecast, we don’t see significant uptick in flow, and we are being very prudent at the state, local, and federal levels to get this mitigation in place,” Col. Cullen Jones of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.
While the cost of this pipeline and other mitigation efforts could be as high as $250 million, city officials said they are confident of federal reimbursement. President Joe Biden declared a federal state of emergency for four Louisiana parishes on Wednesday, as requested by Gov. John Bel Edwards a day earlier.
“I think the presidential declaration announced today is huge,” Orleans Parish Homeland Security director Collin Arnold said.
City officials also are exploring the possibility of bringing in desalination units for the west bank, as well as digging underground water wells that could have uncertain results.
“There is the potential,” Nelson said. “But we really don’t have a good understanding as to what the chemistry of that water looks like.”
The saltwater wedge is expected to reach the city by Oct. 22. If all goes well, city officials hope to have the new water pipeline in place that week.
“It’s going to draw (river water) from north of Kenner, and that will address New Orleans and Jefferson Parish east bank water plants,” Arnold said.
But city officials said residents should be prepared to begin conserving water in the next 2-3 weeks.
“We’re not in a doomsday situation,” Arnold said.
But he says we could be dealing with this saltwater emergency through January, due to the lack of rain in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys.
City officials said regional cooperation is key. They have established a freshwater connection with St. Bernard Parish, which is expected to begin experiencing the saltwater wedge several days before the city does.
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