Louisiana’s Unexpected Drinking Water Challenges

Oct 11, 2023
 by Seven Seas News Team

Various solutions are under consideration, including barging fresh water from upstream, piping fresh water from upriver, and reverse osmosis desalination.

Salt water is assailing Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico as well as from under ground

“You can’t convince people in Louisiana that they’re going to run out of water, because everywhere they look, they see water,” said Terry Emory, the environmental quality manager for West Monroe, Louisiana.

The state’s frequent floods, seemingly endless swamps, rivers, bayous, and lakes hardly paint a picture of freshwater shortage. But after years of overuse, drought, and saltwater intrusion, a crisis on the Mississippi River has brought the state’s dwindling freshwater resources into focus.

Low Mississippi River Levels

With much of the Mississippi River’s watershed in extreme drought, river flows have plummeted. With low river flows, heavier seawater is seeping upriver along the river bottom, threatening the drinking water supply of New Orleans, Louisiana’s largest city. The river bottom is below sea level almost to Natchez, Mississippi.

Salty drinking water carries risks for those with hypertension and other health conditions, as well as for pregnant women. Another great concern is that it can cause leaching from lead pipes, a concern for a city with so much aging water infrastructure. Ultimately, the impacts will be contingent on several factors, such as the level of salinity and duration of contamination.

Various solutions are under consideration. The Army Corps of Engineers has proposed barging fresh water from upstream. One contender is a proposal to pipe fresh water from upriver, but the pipeline could cost more than $250 million. Reverse osmosis desalination is also on the table.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, “What we need most in Louisiana right now, for the Mississippi River, we need rain further up north in the Ohio Valley.” Weather forecasters do not predict rainfall at needed levels until winter.

Louisiana’s Groundwater Crisis

Groundwater levels in Louisiana and its surrounding regions are dropping more quickly than almost anywhere else in the nation, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The depletion is due to multiple factors. Agriculture consumes 61% of Louisiana’s fresh groundwater, and there is no legal limit on how much water agricultural or industrial operations may pump from beneath their land.

The effects of overdrawing wells don’t end at depletion. Pumping fresh water from aquifers creates a void that can draw in salt water, rendering groundwater unusable, an enormous problem for a state with so many low-lying coastal areas. Christine Kirchhoff, a University of Connecticut researcher, warned:

You might have a well that is functioning just fine now, but once salt contaminates fresh water, it’s done. That’s it. You no longer have that well.

Refineries and paper mills also use a great deal of Louisiana’s groundwater. A paper mill in West Monroe, for instance, is the city’s largest water user. When groundwater began to run out, however, the city and the mill agreed to upgrade the municipal wastewater treatment plant to provide safe recycled water for reuse at the mill.

The plan reserves precious drinking water for drinking, and because the mill can safely use the water a second time, it virtually increases the water available. With proper wastewater treatment technologies, reuse is also an increasingly popular lifeline for agriculture.

WaaS® Can Help Communities Prepare

Seven Seas Water Group makes fresh water accessible with its capital-optimizing Water as a Service® (WaaS®) financing. Our reverse osmosis desalination plants provide fresh water for agriculture, industry, and people across the globe while minimizing the need for long, costly pipelines.

WaaS® is not just a solution; it’s a commitment to ensuring that communities in Louisiana and beyond have access to a sustainable and reliable source of fresh water. It offers a cost-effective, environmentally responsible, and customized approach to water supply, making it a powerful tool in the fight against water scarcity and contamination. Seven Seas stands ready to help communities navigate the challenges of today and tomorrow, ensuring water security for all.

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