St. John Parish assures water quality amidst saltwater intrusion concerns

Published 2:43 pm Monday, October 2, 2023

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An influx of saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico has begun to make its way upstream, causing contamination concerns for the drinking water supply of numerous residents located south of New Orleans.

Typically, the Mississippi River’s substantial flow rate acts as a natural barrier to prevent the intrusion of Gulf saltwater. However, the river’s reduced water volume during the ongoing drought in the Central United States has created conditions conducive to saltwater infiltration.

Given the limited prospects for rainfall in the near future, authorities are actively seeking solutions to prevent the saltwater from reaching water treatment facilities that serve tens of thousands of additional residents.

In response to the situation, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration request from Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards for four parishes: Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Jefferson, and Orleans. 

Governor Edwards emphasized the significant potential impact, stating that nearly 20% of the state could be affected by the saltwater intrusion event, which may persist until January.

Specific projections indicate potential saltwater inundation in St. Bernard Parish around Oct. 19, parts of Orleans Parish on Oct. 22, and parts of Jefferson Parish on Oct. 25, as indicated by the Army Corps. 

However, the estimated inundation date for a particular area does not necessarily imply immediate safety concerns regarding the tap water. Notifications regarding water safety will be disseminated by local authorities.

The timeline for these events remains subject to change, influenced by various unpredictable factors, including potential delays in constructing an underwater levee designed to mitigate the saltwater wedge’s advance or the occurrence of rain upstream to augment the river’s flow.

According to an official announcement posted on the St. John the Baptist Parish website on Sept. 22, there are no issues or concerns regarding the water supply in St. John Parish.

“Parish President Hotard remains in communication with GOHSEP and the Corps of Engineers to closely monitor this ongoing situation,” said the post.

The Utilities department has emergency protocols ready to implement if needed. If anything should change, St. John Parish will update residents accordingly.