Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- As the Mississippi River continues to rise to historic levels, officials are keeping a close eye on the metro area's water system. One of their biggest concerns is protecting the intake pipes that draw water from the river into treatment plants around the metro area.
“We just want to make sure the high levels and the strong currents, that a ship or a barge doesn’t come in contact with our water treatment intake,” said Jefferson Parish President John Young.
Barriers called “dolphins” protect the intake systems in both Jefferson and Orleans parishes, but officials fear high river levels and fast currents could push boats over the barriers and into the heart of the water system.
“The problem would be if it actually hits the intake and stops our ability to intake water here, then we’re looking at a major problem,” said Robert Jackson of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board.
That’s why metro area officials have asked the Coast Guard to closely monitor the area around the intake pumps to make sure vessels don’t get too close.
“We’re in action mode right now, for the most part. Everyone is in action mode,” Jackson said. “And as long as we are all on action mode and all of our eyes that are out here are on those areas, we’re in pretty good shape.”
But while officials are on high alert for the potential of runaway barges, they’re not concerned about an increase of fast-moving debris.
“We have sheet rock piling in front to protect from any floating debris and anything of that nature,” Young said.
Officials said there’s no reason for people to panic when it comes to the water flowing out of their tap.
“It’s still one of the best drinking waters in the country,” Jackson said.
“The water is safe to drink, all the mechanical and electric equipment is well above any predicted rise in the river,” Young said. “So everything is being monitored, everything is safe.”
New Orleans officials said barges hit the dolphins in front of the water intake facility in the past, but have never before gone through them or over them.