Saltwater Wedge in Mississippi River Sparks State of Emergency


New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell signed a state of emergency declaration on Friday in response to the saltwater intrusion seeping into the Mississippi River, potentially threatening drinking water supplies and businesses along the banks.

Water levels along the Mississippi, which runs from northern Minnesota down to the Gulf of Mexico, have dropped for a second year in a row, due to hot summer months and low rainfall totals. The drought-stricken river has allowed saltwater to slowly creep north, and has already impacted the drinking water supply for sections of Plaquemines Parish in southern Louisiana.

“Today, in alignment with the Governor’s Office, I signed an emergency declaration for the City of New Orleans due to the Saltwater Intrusion into the Mississippi River,” Cantrell wrote in a post to her Facebook page. “We will continue to work with our partners locally and state-wide as we closely monitor this situation.”

Storm clouds threaten over the Mississippi River and downtown New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 25, 2020. City Mayor LaToya Cantrell declared a state of emergency on Friday in response to the creeping saltwater wedge traveling up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico.
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Cantrell’s office said that no water supplies outside of Plaquemines have been affected by the saltwater wedge. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency in July for the parish. In a press conference last week, Plaquemines Parish President W. Keith Hinkley said that clean water was being handed out to the roughly 2,000 residents from Empire Bridge to Venice, where drinking supplies have been impacted.

Edwards said in an update on Friday that the state was days away from “requesting an emergency declaration from the federal government,” according to a report from CBS News affiliate WWL. Colonel Cullen Jones, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans office, told reporters at the briefing that 25 feet would be added to an underwater sill that was constructed south of the city in July in an effort to slow the progression of the saltwater intrusion.

Louisiana has not been spared from a series of unusual weather events this year. While the state is typically known for its swamps and wetlands, dry spells and heat waves have sparked wildfires, roughly 550 blazes in total, across the state.

As of Tuesday, the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln estimated that nearly 100 percent of Louisiana was under drought conditions. Just three months ago, only 15.5 percent of Louisiana was considered in a drought.

Other hard-hit states include Texas, with 82 percent of the state currently under drought conditions, as well as Mississippi at 70 percent, reported the center.

Newsweek reached out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans office via email on Friday for comment.


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