Mississippi River Saltwater Intrusion: A Visual Guide to the Challenges and Solutions

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The Mississippi River is losing its fight with the ocean.

A combination of drought and sea-level rise has sent a wedge of salt water moving up the river.

This year's saltwater intrusion is a particularly dramatic example of what may be more common in the dry season.

Human activities, such as lowering the riverbed to accommodate ships, are also making saltwater intrusion more frequent.

The Mississippi River's flow patterns are also becoming increasingly volatile, making it difficult to predict and manage saltwater intrusion.

The saltwater wedge is moving upriver, threatening drinking water supplies, infrastructure, and coastal ecosystems.

Communities that get their drinking water from the river must drink bottled water, bring in fresh water from elsewhere, or operate desalination plants.

Over time, saltwater intrusion could impact communities outside of the river's immediate surroundings, as the saltwater reaches the groundwater.

Saltwater intrusion could also cause problems when the Mississippi River floods and debris enters the channel and disrupts shipping.

If the salt water continues to return, the lower Mississippi could change fundamentally, with impacts on fisheries, transportation, infrastructure, and more.

The state of Louisiana has long been at the center of the battle between the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, and is livable because of the engineering solutions that mitigate these dangers.

But when it comes to this year's particular saltwater problem, "rain is the only thing that can solve the problem," said hydrologist Matthew Hiatt. "And lots of it."

The Mississippi River's fight with the ocean is a complex and challenging one, with no easy solutions.

But it is a fight that we must win, for the sake of the people and wildlife that depend on this vital waterway.