Water Crisis Threatens Bottled Water Prices

One of the biggest problems with extreme weather is how its negative effects can impact us weeks and months later.

Take this past summer’s sizzling heat waves and lack of rain, for example. Those two weather events not only took a toll on our nation’s electrical grid and crops. They also hurt our water supply.

Mainly because they resulted in lower water levels in our rivers and streams. With the Mississippi River and its tributaries experiencing historic low levels, another major problem will develop.

Officials in Louisiana say saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico will continue to intrude into the state’s drinking water systems. And that means drinking water will be compromised. It’s already happening in some southern parishes. And it will be felt even more strongly later this month. 

Mississippi River to Reach ‘Historic Lows’

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to barge 36 million gallons of freshwater per day into the lower Mississippi River near New Orleans. But will that be enough to avoid a catastrophe?

Parts of the central U.S. experienced drought over the summer – thanks to the heat and less than average rainfall – leading to the Mississippi’s lower water levels. 

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said the mighty river is forecast to reach “historic lows over the next several weeks.”

A 1,500-foot-wide underwater levee was built in the Mississippi River during the summer in anticipation of this problem. But they need to add at least 25 feet to the height of this artificial basin. And that will take time and only delay the inevitable by a couple of weeks.

Drought Leads to Saltwater Intrusion

During a normal summer, there’s enough rainfall in the central U.S. to offset this potential problem. But not this year.

Edwards said he does not believe there is “sufficient precipitation in the near term anywhere along the Mississippi River to materially change the conditions for the better. 

“Unfortunately, we just haven’t had the relief from the dry conditions that we need” to keep the situation from worsening. 

A press release from Edwards’s office read: “In some areas, the increased salinity from the saltwater intrusion is forecast to exceed the EPA maximum standard.” This will impact public water systems and introduce “the risk of corrosion to water distribution systems, machinery, and appliances.” 

Cautioning Against Hoarding Bottled Water

The plan is to add the projected 36 million gallons of freshwater per day to water already being held in treatment centers. This is designed to create a mixture safe for treatment. 

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell signed an emergency declaration that will also allow the governor to order the delivery of bottled water for Louisiana residents.

Some of the state’s 5 million residents are already receiving bottled water. Including those in the Louisiana parish of Plaquemines.

Edwards promised his state’s residents that there will not be a bottled water shortage and cautioned against hoarding it.

Freshwater Facing a Tough Challenge

What goes unseen during most years in the South is a battle between freshwater and saltwater, with freshwater winning year after year.

Freshwater movement from the Mississippi and other rivers keeps saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico from infiltrating freshwater bodies. But when freshwater levels fall, it opens the door for saltwater to intrude, “contaminating” the freshwater.

Last year to a certain extent – and definitely this year – saltwater has had an opportunity to gain the upper hand in this ongoing battle.

As Edwards said, “Most of the state has been experiencing prolonged drought and above-average heat, and has presented a number of challenges including wildfires, drought, heat-related deaths, injuries, and so forth, and now saltwater intrusion.”

Winter Precipitation Will Come Too Late

Weather experts are calling for more precipitation than usual in the Midwest this winter, which will eventually result in Mississippi River levels rising. But that won’t occur in time to solve the current water crisis.

As recently as 2019, Louisiana was experiencing intense flooding during a particularly rainy year. Things are very different now.

Just two months ago, the largest wildfire in Louisiana history (the Tiger Island Fire) was aided by high heat and lack of water.

Louisiana has already passed its annual average for heat-related deaths and emergency room visits this year. Ninety percent of the state is considered to be in drought conditions. 

Counting on Bottled Water? Not $mart!

When demand increases compared to supply, prices almost always rise. Sometimes significantly. The situation in Louisiana is already increasing the demand for bottled water.

So, expect bottled water prices to rise in grocery stores in the near future. And not just in the central U.S. where this particular problem is occurring. When one state faces a crisis, others are likely to suffer as well. 

The lower water levels of the Mississippi also could cause cargo ships carrying water and other goods to become stranded. 

What Louisiana really needs right now is significant rainfall. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

The saltwater intrusion is expected to continue its climb upstate, affecting more and more of the state’s residents. And no matter where you live, if you depend on bottled water to keep your water cleaner and safer, you may feel it in your wallet as well.

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