New Orleans schools, hospital systems prepare for saltwater intrusion

Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 8:22 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - NOLA Public Schools is preparing for the expected arrival of the saltwater wedge in New Orleans later this month.

Superintendent Avis Williams said Tuesday (Oct. 3), “In terms of our mechanical systems, we’re working with engineers to truly understand the effects of salt water on the various types of HVAC systems in our portfolio. This includes water towers -- open loop as well as closed-loop systems.”

Don LeDuff, chief operations officer for NOLA Public Schools, said, “What we’re hearing mostly now is that the effects come in long-term. So the more exposure of salt water to the systems will affect, I think, the corrosion levels.”

The school system says that, if necessary, it will shut down water fountains in schools and cover them, and that some school meal recipes might have to be altered.

“We’ll modify recipes so that we’re using more heat-to-serve options,” Williams said.

The school district also is considering possible water distribution.

“The timeframe for that will be determined, based upon the need,” Williams said. “We will keep families posted well in advance.”

School board president Olin Parker said, “The board is extremely confident in the leadership that we have in place. Every question that we have asked so far about saltwater intrusion, Dr. Williams and her team are already multiple steps ahead.”

NOLA Public Schools and Jefferson Parish Schools issued a joint statement Tuesday reaffirming their commitment to collaborating in the face of the saltwater threat.

“In times like these, we recognize the importance of collaboration,” Jefferson Parish Schools superintendent Dr. James Gray said in the statement. “We are actively partnering with neighboring school districts, including Orleans Parish, to address the challenges posed by the saltwater intrusion. We aren’t saltwater intrusion experts, which is why we remain in constant contact with the experts to utilize the best information available. However, we know plans can change as the situation evolves, and we will pivot as needed to keep our students and employees safe.”

Local hospital systems are preparing as well.

Dr. Jeffrey Elder, medical director for emergency management at LCMC Health, said, “For all of our hospitals here in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, we’ll be bringing in water purification systems with reverse osmosis that will allow us to utilize the water in our hospitals throughout the facility for our facility needs. For our lab equipment, for our sterilization needs, so that way we’ll have full availability at our hospitals. We’ll stay open.

“We’re ready to take care of our patients. We don’t want to limit everything that we do every day because of this, and so our plan is to move fully ahead with all scheduled surgeries, all admissions and any other healthcare needs that our patients require.”

LCMC Health also will have bottled water on hand.

“We’ll have bottled water available for drinking water,” Elder said. “For all of our needs when it comes to handwashing, the HVAC systems, facility needs, sterilization, we’ll be able to utilize the water that comes through the reverse osmosis and the purification systems that we’ll have at the hospitals.”

Ochsner Health said in a statement that it also was making preparations.

“Our teams are working diligently to carry out plans and preparations to protect our patients, employees, facilities and equipment,” the statement said. “Our facilities and supply chain experts have contingency plans in place to provide potable water to all our areas of business. We are confident in our strategy and we do not anticipate any interruption in services.”

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