When The Great Water Pandemic Of 2023 Ensued.

Governor John Bel Edwards tried. Mayor LaToya Cantrell tried. But in the year of 2023 in the month of September, neither could stop the citizens of New Orleans from buying water.

We had just gone through the same thing with toilet paper. So, one would’ve thought that after the great toilet paper pandemic of 2021 people would have understood the relationship between hoarding and shortages. But that would’ve required people to overcome an essential part of human nature, the inability to think rationally in stressful situations.

“Child, lemme tell you,” Auntie Beverly called and said, “there ain’t a bottle of water left in the Sam’s on the Westbank.” That same day photos of water stacked in closets started appearing on Instagram reels and TikTok feeds. At Canseco’s on Fillmore and Elysian Fields, a lady stood in line with 20 gallons of water in her basket, more than she probably drinks in a year.

Mayor Cantrell declared a state of emergency. Governor Edwards vowed to issue a federal emergency request. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers talked of dumping 36 million gallons of fresh water into the Mississippi River.

The 2023 Water Pandemic

Salt was the problem. Yes, salt. Salt and summer. Call it the summer of salt.

The summer of salt happened around the time the planet had started feeling a certain type of way about us. It probably had been feeling a certain type of way about us for a while. Apparently stuffing the planet with more and more people, and scorching the atmosphere didn’t go over well. Finally, the planet expressed its revulsion in heat. Stifling, humid, swampy heat. And no rain.

People Wait in Line to Buy Water

The Mississippi River, the Nile of New Orleans, saw its water flow drop from 300,000 cubic square feet per second to 140,000 because the heat inspired drought. That’s more than half. As a result, a massive salt wedge began back flowing up the river from the Gulf of Mexico.

Lower coastal areas were put on a water advisory. Like don’t drink the water because there’s too much salt in it now, for some people. Word was that by late in the month of 10, the wedge would reach Orleans and other highly populated parishes. Then in those parishes it’d be the same scenario, for some people.

The S&WB issued an advisory. State Health Advisor Joe Kanter released a statement saying there’s no reason to panic. Underwater levees were even erected to stunt the wedge’s flow. And once the soon-to-be federal emergency request was declared there’d be acesss to federal aid in the form of more water. Still panic ensued.

Word was that in some parts of town people had proceeded to buy up all the Fiji water. When the Fiji is gone from the shelves it’s a sure sign that we have reached a Code Red level event. The Fiji was gone. Yet, the wedge was still a month away.   

The 2023 Water Pandemic

“What you think they gon do with all that water in the meantime,” somebody asked.

“I don’t know,” somebody else replied, “store it next to all their unused toilet paper?”

People acted like they weren’t living in America. America is a very wasteful and industrial society. Don’t we all know that? At any given time, there are warehouses full of unused goods. Think of any type of grocery. Think of water. What’s seen on the shelves doesn’t always represent the available stock. So typically, there’s no reason to hoard. That was a hard concept to swallow in stressful times.

In those days, the wedge was always with us. There on the news, creeping its way up the river, a floating wedge of doom. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for your father to call. “I bought 3 cases today,” he’d say. “You know the stuff coming out of your faucet and dispenser is still good,” you’d reply.

Ultimately, the wedge demanded more rationality than we could muster. We succumbed as we always did. I too if I’m being honest. My cousin came over. “What y’all got to drink,” he said. “Anything you want,” I said, “anything except for bottled water.”

One thought on “The 2023 Water Pandemic”
  1. posted on Reddit:
    hyper-fixated on the salt water intrusion event of 1988 for two days straight and this is what i’ve learned:

    im not a water history scientist, i have exactly one source for you because it was still open in my browser (it’s super interesting tho.) anyway, here are my unorganized and random facts about 1988 water intrusion in new orleans and other random facts:

    • the event lasted two months, july-august

    • new orleans received plenty of drinking water. shipments from all over were sent to local water treatment facilities.

    • they diverted water from lakes and surrounding rivers.

    •the sill in kenner was not built in time for the event.

    •the river dried up in 1988 due to the extreme drought. barges would get stuck in the lower mississippi near memphis and the industry lost 20% of its income

    •although the drought lasted another two years, hurricane gilbert helped get things moving again.

    •the mississippi was lowered from 45 ft to 50 ft in 2022. this will be helpful. (edited for bad wording)

    •barges from upstream released countless amounts of water.

    • local and national news had recently started reporting on higher cancer rates in the area (cancer alley) so eyes were on SE Louisiana

    • the media kept information on the incident ambiguous (the study suggested the reason was to make the public take it more seriously.)

    • bottled water sales skyrocketed before the event. once the salt wedge arrived, sales went down and everyone stopped buying water. data suggested public didn’t view the situation as sufficiently threatening enough to continue buying water

    • there was growing concern about toxins in new orleans drinking water in 1986&1987

    • livestock have higher thresholds for salt but will typically avoid salty water unless they have no other choice.

    • water will taste undrinkable before it even hits the EPA limit.

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