New Orleans: Global Heating is Poisoning the Mississippi River

The people of New Orleans and smaller communities along the Mississippi River are facing a ticking time bomb that could cost them their drinking water supply for months. Saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico is flowing up the Mississippi River, and if it does not stop, it will contaminate their water treatment plants in a matter of weeks, pushing saltwater into the city pipes and homes. If it reaches the city, the people of New Orleans will not have access to safe drinking tap water and will have to resort to buying bottled water, depending on water trucks, or expensive desalination machines. Also, saltwater could corrode the city’s lead pipes, releasing its poisonous elements. This has already affected communities, like Plaquemines and St. Bernard, downriver from New Orleans.  

This is not a natural disaster. The cause of this crisis is due to human intervention. This has happened because of climate change (the region has seen record heat and droughts) and, also, due to dredging, the artificial deepening of the Mississippi River, which promotes the influx of seawater. The combination of drought and dredging makes the river’s level unusually low, allowing salt water to enter. Before the worsening of the climate crisis, these events were rare. But it is now the second year in a row the region faces this crisis. Even if this time New Orleans is spared, this problem is only going to get worse. We urgently need long-term solutions.  

But all these problems are the product of decisions made by a few businesspeople, who have enriched themselves at the expense of the many, and the politicians who serve them. Big oil companies have polluted the gulf and river for decades. The deepening of the Mississippi began more than a hundred years ago to facilitate shipping. But who has seen most of the profits of the increased trade through the river? Clearly not the hard-working people along the river. No, they’re just left with the consequences. They are left facing a crisis and looking for emergency solutions to a problem whose risks were known long in advance.   

The people of New Orleans and the other riverfront communities live and work on the Mississippi. If they, rather than wealthy One Percent and their politicians, were in control of what happens on the river, a situation like this would never have happened. But this is part of a much, much bigger global climate crisis that affects us all in many ways. We can’t wait any longer for the people in power to do the right thing. They won’t. We must fight them.