Lower river levels threaten New Orleans water supply

Aug 18, 2012 Posted by

Grist.org

By Philip Bump

Another time New Orleans had water problems.

The Mississippi River is near historic low levels from Illinois down to Louisiana, causing something of a problem for the city of New Orleans. From GulfLive.com:

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday declared a state of emergency for Plaquemines Parish as it deals with encroaching salt water that’s threatening drinking water in the New Orleans area.

The declaration clears the way for state agencies to offer help to the parish as it deals with its water supply issues. Due to the Mississippi River’s low water levels, salt water has been moving far upriver and was at the outskirts of New Orleans by Wednesday, nearly 90 miles north of the mouth of the Mississippi. Also Wednesday, Plaquemines Parish issued an advisory to parish residents that high levels of sodium and chloride were being measured in drinking water.

The river was closed temporarily to shipping traffic as contractors began building an underwater barrier that the Army Corps of Engineers says will stop the advance of salt water. Many communities along the river draw freshwater from the Mississippi with freshwater intakes and water treatment facilities that are incompatible with saltwater caused by the current intrusion.

 

A murky photo of some wood which once constituted a briefly existent sailing vessel of some sort. (Still from KTVI-TV video.)

The Missouri River isn’t faring much better. But its receding waters have yielded an interesting discovery: the wreckage of a 19th century steamboat, the Montana.

Pieces of the sunken vessel are now clearly visible because of the near-record low water levels.

The Montana, built in 1882, was the largest vessel to ever travel the Missouri. It was longer than a football field.

The Montana struck an underwater tree in 1884 and was piloted ashore. The boat has been there ever since for the past 128 years.

In other words, it’s a wash. Yes, a major metropolitan area already struggling to recover from one of the worst natural disasters in American history may have its water supply threatened, but we also found a cool old rotten boat!

This drought is now officially zero-sum.

 

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

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