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Saltwater is infiltrating the Mississippi River

Barge sailing on expansive river flanked by lush forests.

Less than 3 min read

Saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico is creeping into the Mississippi River, polluting the drinking water in Louisiana parishes and threatening to strike New Orleans. President Biden approved an emergency declaration for Louisiana this week, unlocking federal funds to deal with the salt onslaught.

Local officials are assuring residents that there will be plenty of bottled water to go around and imploring them to abstain from raiding supermarket aisles.

Why is Big Muddy getting salty?

  • A wedge-shaped layer of saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico is always present under the Mississippi’s freshwater. The river current normally pushes the saltwater downstream, keeping it near the mouth of the river.
  • But a lack of rainfall this summer has weakened the river’s usual flow, allowing the brine to move upstream.

Since the Mississippi is running low more frequently with climate change, the risk of repeated saltwater intrusions is only growing.

US Army Corps of Engineers to the rescue. The group is working to delay the saltwater’s encroachment by increasing the height of an existing underwater barrier. It’s also planning to relocate freshwater from further upriver.—SK