Mississippi River shuts down in Plaquemines Parish today

Published: Aug. 14, 2012 at 11:35 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 14, 2012 at 3:18 PM CDT
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Belle Chasse, La.-- A major construction project in the Mississippi River gets started in Plaquemines Parish.  At noon Tuesday, a section of the river will be shut down for 12 hours.  It's part of the fight to block saltwater from moving upriver and impacting the area's drinking water.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin the complex job of building a sill, or underwater levee, in the river North of Myrtle Grove.  The Corps says it will start laying underwater piping Tuesday, and during the next 45 days of construction, it says a stretch of the river in that area will probably be limited to one-way traffic.

The goal of the sill is to stop, or slow saltwater from moving even farther upriver.  The Corps built a sill in 1988 and again in 1999, and in both cases, the Corps says there were benefits.

The extreme drought in other areas has caused extra low river levels here and the saltwater intrusion.  It's a stark difference on the river compared to what we saw this time last year.  "A year ago, we were looking at the flood of record, 17 feet on the Carrollton gauge, and here, we are now looking at drought conditions with below two feet on the Carrollton gauge.  It's amazing what the Mississippi River can do," said Col. Ed Fleming with the Corps.

While the Corps works on the barrier, Plaquemines Parish leaders say four barges filled with freshwater in Port Sulphur are ready to distribute the water to people and businesses.  In addition, construction of a pipeline on the west bank of Plaquemines is complete and can pull freshwater from Orleans Parish if needed.  Parish President Billy Nungesser says water is safe to drink, but he asks that residents conserve.