Communities brace themselves, and emergency response teams
NEW ORLEANS — Governor John Bel Edwards' urgent plea for a federal emergency declaration and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell's swift action in signing an emergency declaration for the city underscore the critical situation unfolding as drought conditions and the specter of climate change loom large over the drinking water supply for New Orleans and neighboring communities along the Mississippi River.
The threat arises from the gradual encroachment of saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico upstream into the Mississippi River due to historic lows in river volume predicted by the National Weather Service. Plaguing the region since June, saltwater intrusion in Plaquemines Parish has been exacerbated by the relentless drought conditions, with fears mounting that more communities along the Mississippi River could soon face the same predicament.
In response to the looming crisis, Governor Edwards emphasized the gravity of the situation and called for a federal emergency declaration to expedite aid and resources. Mayor Cantrell promptly affirmed the severity of the threat by signing an emergency declaration for New Orleans, acknowledging the urgent need for unified action.
To mitigate the saltwater intrusion, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) constructed an underwater barrier sill in July 2023. However, the intrusion breached the sill's elevation earlier this week, necessitating additional measures to delay the progress of saltwater further upstream. Colonel Cullen Jones, USACE New Orleans District commander, assured that every possible effort within their authority would be employed to support local responses and alleviate extreme low-water conditions.
In the face of this challenge, the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) has launched the website Emergency.la.gov, offering accurate and timely information about the evolving crisis. Governor Edwards urged the public to rely on credible sources and stay informed, emphasizing the need to draw from past experiences, notably the similar situation in 1988, to guide the response effectively.
The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), which regulates water systems across the state, is closely monitoring changes through water testing and will issue guidance through emergency.la.gov/saltwater. They aim to provide critical information on actions to take once saltwater intrusion occurs, particularly targeting vulnerable populations, and will continually update the public and healthcare providers on changes in drinking water quality.
As the threat of saltwater intrusion looms over critical water supply systems, communities brace themselves, and emergency response teams gear up to tackle an impending crisis that demands collective resilience and prompt action.