By: Ella Marrufo
After a severe drought struck Louisiana, saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico infiltrated the Mississippi River, posing a threat to the state’s drinking water and plumbing. On Sept. 27, President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for the state, ensuring that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help citizens by providing necessary resources and equipment.
Although the saltwater intrusion has only affected a few areas — namely the parishes of Jefferson, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard — it threatens to spread to other parts of Louisiana as well. Fortunately for the populous city of New Orleans, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) predicted on Oct. 5 that the saltwater will not reach the city.
Tulane University, a private, highly-rated university in the heart of New Orleans, has kept anxious students apprised through email updates since late September. The school confirmed that — like the USACE said — it is unlikely that the salt deposits will affect New Orleans or the university. If they do, however, Tulane outlined preparations such as installing reverse osmosis water filters and portable restroom trailers, as well as distributing bottled water.
Many people in the parishes of Louisiana have dealt with unsafe drinking water since June. Everyday activities have become nearly impossible and increasingly difficult; one mother, Casey Alcalde, lamented having to take precautions so that her children do not ingest the water, saying, “I don’t know how much more I can take.” Citizens are forced to wait and hope for relief, and many feel unseen and overlooked compared to other more inhabited Louisiana cities, even though the water crisis has not impacted these areas as greatly. Mark Cognevich, a Plaquemines Parish Councilman, commented, “They feel like the forgotten people.”
Scientists warn that this saltwater incident will not be isolated to just Louisiana. Rather, the intrusion will soon become increasingly common across the United States. Climate change and extreme weather are the main culprits and pose a significant threat to coastal cities across the country. “In the next five or ten years we really need to figure out how to tackle this situation,” stated Soni Pradhanang, an associate professor in hydrology at the University of Rhode Island.
Coastal states like South Carolina, California, and Florida have grappled with these saltwater incidents for years, having to abandon numerous water wells and aquifers as a result. However, these states are aware of the threat and have employed preparatory measures and encouraged conscious water usage. Allison Lassiter, a researcher of urban water management at the University of Pennsylvania, called Louisiana’s water crisis “predictable” and had hoped for “a little bit more preparation in place.
(Sources: Hilton Head PSD, NBC News, The Guardian, Washington Post, White House)