Over the last several weeks, residents of New Orleans braced for a potential water crisis due to a significant saltwater intrusion in the Mississippi River. Fortunately, the most recent updates suggest New Orleans will avoid a drinking water crisis for now.
However, the fact that this coastal city has narrowly escaped two saltwater intrusion incidents in two years should serve as a wake-up call to fix an antiquated lead pipe system that provides water to over 1.2 million residents.
What Causes a Saltwater Intrusion?
The southern portion of the United States continues to deal with severe drought conditions. Unfortunately, the lack of rain has significantly lowered water levels in the Mississippi River.
A saltwater intrusion occurs when a river's water levels fall to a point where it can no longer keep the saltwater at bay. As the saltwater flows up the Mississippi River, it slowly contaminates each water treatment plant, making the water undrinkable and leading to a crisis that could affect millions of people.
Unfortunately, these coastal cities are at the most risk from saltwater intrusion, and climate change may partially be to blame. As sea surface temperatures heat up worldwide, rising sea levels, drought and increased demand will continue to strain access to clean water.