Salt Water Infiltrating the Mississippi

Arthur Belala | WikiMedia Commons

Salt Water Infiltrating the Mississippi

Just how bad is the current U.S. drought?

A state of emergency was declared on Wednesday for the New Orleans parish of Plaquemines after an upsurge of ocean water in the Mississippi River was deemed to be threatening the closure of water treatment facilities there.

Normally, the high waters of the Mississippi are powerful enough to flush out saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico. But when the river’s water levels are low, as they currently are due to ongoing drought conditions, copious amounts of saltwater flow into the river. Under normal circumstances the saltwater only travels 15 to 16 miles inland. But, as of Wednesday, the saltwater had traveled 89 miles up the river, and was still moving. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun construction on an $8.1 million dollar underwater barrier to impede the saline flow. This building project—expected to take about 45 days to complete—has already temporarily closed the river to shipping traffic twice.

While the salt content in Plaquemines’s drinking water isn’t yet considered a general health hazard, authorities have issued an advisory to people with kidney diseases, on dialysis machines, on low-sodium diets or with high blood pressure recommending that they seek advice from their doctors. The parish has requested 30,000 bottles of clean water from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Plaquemines will also receive 20,000 gallons of water from the Louisiana National Guard over a five day period.

The drying Mississippi may portend economic disaster for the United States. NBC News observed that the drought has “humbled” the shipping industry along the mighty river. The Mississippi River is one of the major factors in America’s economic prosperity. The U.S.’s current drought curse bodes poorly for its already beleaguered economy. Read “The Mighty Mississippi to Run Dry?” to understand why.