The Mississippi River is still in drought, with no end in sight. The historically low water levels in the busy waterway are disrupting transportation, recreation, and even water quality along the river.
Plaquemines Parish, a community south of New Orleans, has been warned that saltwater permeated the drinking water supply for up to 3,000 people in the area. Local officials are worried that this could pose health risks, especially for community members with chronic health issues like high blood pressure, CNN reported. The saltwater made its way into the community’s water supply because water from the Gulf of Mexico has poured into the river. Because water levels in the river are so low, it’s flowing slower than usual, which has made it harder to keep the saltwater out, according to CNN.
The extremely low water levels have also messed with moving around goods and people. In mid-October, the drought was disrupting barge traffic and capacity. The Coast Guard reported that eight barges had run aground in the river, getting stuck in sand and mud that the barges would have easily sailed over last year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to dredge several spots along the river to avoid more shipping disruptions. Barges had to carry about 20% less cargo to avoid running aground, which is bad news for the country’s already disrupted supply chains. This has slowed down the shipping of fertilizer and grain to farmers across several states before the incoming winter freeze, Bloomberg reported.
The drought has also changed recreation along the Mississippi River. In Missouri, locals are able to walk along what is now a semi-exposed riverbed to Tower Rock, a rock formation in the river. Before the drought, this area was only accessible by boat, The Atlantic reported. Some marinas in Tennessee have water levels so low, the boats are now sitting in a few inches of muddy water. The once-sunken Diamond Lady is now completely visible in at the Riverside Park Marina in Memphis.
The U.S. is being battered by an ongoing megadrought. In March, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted widespread drought through the spring and summer. By early August, more than half of the country was experiencing some form of drought conditions. A combination of climate change and human activity is contributing to more and more intense droughts worldwide.
And it looks like the country is in for another year of dryness. Last month, NOAA announced that La Niña is sticking around for a third consecutive year. States in the Gulf and Southwest are expected to see below-normal rates of precipitation, so there might be little respite for the Mississippi River and connecting waterways.