It has been a week and a half since Hurricane Ida hit the Gulf Coast, and the devastating effects of Category 4 storms are still being felt throughout the region.Approximately 418,000 people in Louisiana Keep no electricity, Unable to run the air conditioning unit to deal with Hot late summer temperature Or keep food fresh at home and grocery stores. The storm also forced hundreds of municipal water supply systems offline, causing a drinking water crisis, officials warned that such a crisis could last for several weeks.
As of Tuesday, Louisiana has 51 water systems, each serving 25 to 20,000 people, but they are still closed due to Ada. Another 242 people are still under the boiling water warning. About 642,000 people still don’t have access to clean water, according to Louisiana Department of Health.In Mississippi, the State Department of Health has 10 active Precautions for boiling water, Affecting 7,142 people.
Kevin Litter, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health, said in an email: “There is no specific time frame to restore all systems to 100%.” ”This will be different for each system. It also depends on the location.”
There are two reasons for the immediate water crisis: In Louisiana and Mississippi, Hurricane Ida destroyed power lines, making the water supply system unable to obtain the electricity needed to extract groundwater or run treatment facilities. Litter explained that although Louisiana requires all water systems to be equipped with backup fuel generators, many water systems do not comply with the regulations. Those who do have backup pumps have been affected by the long-term power outages that were still severely interrupted a week after the storm-a situation that caused fuel shortages and made generators unusable. Flooding on roads also makes critical infrastructure (such as water wells or pumping stations) inaccessible, making it impossible to repair the damage caused by the storm. In the end, the destruction of roads and bridges actually tore the water pipes and disrupted the entire system.
Due to intensified climate change, Hurricane Ida is one of the strongest storms on record to hit the Gulf Coast. However, the 150-mile-per-hour wind blowing down electrical wires, trees, and houses, and the powerful storm surge that briefly reversed the flow of the Mississippi River cannot fully explain the failure of the state’s water supply system.
Behind the direct damage is that Louisiana has one of the worst water systems in the country, which makes it vulnerable to storms like Ida. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) rated the state’s drinking water system as D- Infrastructure Report Card.
“We have an outdated water supply and pumping system,” Craig Corten, an emeritus professor of geography and resilience expert at Louisiana State University, told Grist. “Our sewage treatment system is aging, and our infrastructure has not been maintained.”
Nearly 60% (1,335) of Louisiana’s water supply systems are more than half a century old. According to ASCE, the long-term underfunding of most of these systems poses a threat to water quality. According to the Louisiana Department of Health, just last year, 831 water systems (serving 606 communities) had 4,582 breaches of water quality standards. Country analysis Research from the Natural Resources Defense Council found that drinking water systems that continue to violate the law are 40% more likely to serve people with a higher proportion of people of color.
Colten explained that many of these violations stem from small towns’ inability to fund the maintenance and repair of their water systems. Especially in northern and central Louisiana, people have moved from rural towns to big cities. As a result, many of these communities find themselves unable to provide public services to those who remain, forcing some communities to take care of the system themselves, According to a report by The AdvocateThe lack of resources has caused about 20% of the state’s water system to continue to violate the law. Louisiana Lighting Company Report Earlier this year.
The pre-existing vulnerabilities of the Louisiana water system created a situation where, as demonstrated last week, it did not take much time to go from dysfunction to full shutdown. “It is expected that a system that serves 500 people or even the smallest system (25 people) can adapt to [hurricane like] Ida,” said Christine Kirchhoff, associate professor and civil and environmental engineer at the University of Connecticut.
But the problem is not just electricity and plumbing. According to statistics, as sea levels rise, approximately 30% of state parishes face the risk of salt water entering wells and aquifers. ASCE 2017 transcript. this Investigation Report Workshop WWNO/WRKF found that many aquifers in the state are rapidly shrinking, mainly due to excessive extraction of groundwater reserves by the agriculture and oil and gas industries.
Finding long-term solutions to the state’s water problems is not easy, but experts say that funding is necessary. President Biden’s Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated in May that Louisiana’s drinking water infrastructure will require additional funding of US$7 billion over the next 20 years. At the press conferenceThe $111 billion infrastructure bill recently approved by Congress will surely inject some air into the suffocating finances of the local water supply system.
However, Kirchhoff said that it is not enough to rely on funds to modernize infrastructure or purchase backup generators in response to emergencies. She said that part of the work that needs to be done is to “provide a group of staff for these smaller systems to help them apply for funding or understand regulatory changes and enable their systems to achieve compliance.”
Protecting and developing water resources and management plans can also help.
“We are a state that receives an average of 60 inches of rainfall per year. As the climate changes, we expect more rainfall and more moisture,” Colten said. “There is plenty of water. Water supply is not a problem.” He said that we need to invest in a water supply system that can handle this influx.