Navigating Through Saltwater Intrusion: What New Orleans Residents Need to Know

Posted by
John Woodard on October 06, 2023

A saltwater wedge from the Gulf of Mexico is projected to contaminate New Orleans drinking water supplies around October 22, 2023. As a result, pipes can become corroded, and drinking water will be unsafe to drink. While water suppliers and government bodies are working to delay and subdue the effects of saltwater intrusion, there remains uncertainty on the overall water quality in New Orleans over the next several months. In this article, you can learn what saltwater intrusion is, how it is being handled, how to best deal with it at home, and the best systems for treating salt water.

What is saltwater intrusion?

Saltwater intrusion, also known as seawater intrusion, is the contamination of a freshwater supply from a saltwater source. Normally, the flow of fresh water in the direction of the oceans prevents salt water from entering freshwater sources. However, if freshwater levels become too low due to drought, like the Mississippi River is currently experiencing, salt water can creep up the body of water. Salt water is much denser than fresh water. This leads to salt water and fresh water forming two layers, fresh water on top and salt water on the bottom. As the fresh water and salt water mix, the salt water forms a wedge shape that is led by the least densely contaminated water. Eventually, the salt water mixes well enough to reach the surface of the freshwater source.

Where else has saltwater intrusion occurred?

While saltwater intrusion is about to hit New Orleans, it has occurred in many places in the United States before. Freshwater aquifers in Florida, for example, have become contaminated with salt when their water levels have dipped too low. In fact, salt water is slowly intruding freshwater supplies all along the eastern United States. The southeastern states are experiencing the fastest rates of saltwater creep, forcing water companies to abandon freshwater supplies and search for solutions.

What is being done about the New Orleans saltwater intrusion?

In July 2023, the United States Army Corps delayed the Mississippi River saltwater intrusion by constructing a levee to obstruct the layer of saltwater on the river floor. When the saltwater accumulated enough to overflow the levee, the Army Corps raised the barrier by 25 feet to further delay the intrusion. While this operation is not a permanent solution, it allows the government and citizens more time to prepare for the imminent contamination.

To combat the salinity levels in water supplies, some water treatment plants in New Orleans plan to bring in upstream fresh water through a pipeline to dilute the saltwater to safe levels. President Biden has also declared a federal emergency, allowing FEMA to contribute to disaster relief in the area.

How long will the New Orleans saltwater intrusion last?

City officials in New Orleans have created plans that span over the course of three months, but the saltwater intrusion could last as long as eight months. Because the intrusion is primarily caused by drought, rainfall is the biggest factor in how long the salt water will contaminate the Mississippi River.

What are the effects of saltwater on the home?

The two primary concerns about salt water in a home are the lack of suitable drinking water and the corrosion of pipes. Salt water is not safe to drink short-term or long-term, so homeowners must make a decision on how to provide their home with clean drinking water. The salinity levels of seawater contribute to saltwater corrosion in plumbing. Corroded pipes can add heavy metals to your water supply and affect water pressure in the home. The most susceptible pipes to saltwater corrosion are copper, steel, and iron.

Signs of saltwater corrosion in plumbing

If you notice any of these signs in your home’s plumbing, your pipes may be experiencing saltwater corrosion:

  • Discolored water
  • Low water pressure
  • Metallic tasting water
  • Green hue in copper pipes

corroded pipes

How to protect plumbing from saltwater corrosion

The best way to protect your home’s plumbing from saltwater corrosion is to prevent salt water from reaching your home’s plumbing in the first place. To treat water before it enters your home, you will need a whole-house water system. Whole-house systems are installed where all water enters a home, allowing for clean water in all home water applications. To remove salt from water for an entire home, you will need a whole-house reverse osmosis system. Other whole-house systems, such as carbon filters, sediment filters, or water softeners, will not remove salt from water.

What should I do during a saltwater intrusion?

If your drinking water supply is contaminated with salt, you have two options: purchasing drinking water from a store or installing an appropriate water treatment system in your home. Of course, the major downside of purchasing water at a store is its limited availability, particularly during a time of emergency. On the other hand, the downside of installing a filtration system in your home is the upfront cost. Despite the expense of home water filtration, installing a filter system can be more cost-effective in the long run than purchasing bottled water. The cost ultimately depends on the type of system you wish to install in your home. For example, a whole-house reverse osmosis system can cost thousands of dollars, while a point-of-use RO system that connects to a kitchen sink can cost only a few hundred.

Learn more: Do I need a whole-house reverse osmosis system?

Can I drink salt water?

No, salt water is unsafe to drink. The only viable reason to drink salt water is to restore depleted sodium levels in your body after producing excessive sweat, such as after intense exercise. Because saltwater intrusion comes from the ocean and seawater contains a high concentration of salt, the salt content in ocean water is too much for kidneys to handle. In fact, drinking seawater results in dehydration because more water is needed to dispose of excess salt than is taken in by drinking salt water.

Side effects of drinking salt water

Drinking salt water can cause many negative effects on the body, including:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Death (in extreme cases)

If you experience side effects after drinking salt water, drink fresh water as soon as possible. The fresh water will allow your body to rid itself of excess salt without dehydrating it.

Can I bathe in salt water?

Yes, you can bathe in salt water, but it may lead to skin irritation if you bathe in it regularly. Bathing in salt water in moderation may actually be beneficial to your skin because of its exfoliating properties. However, long-term bathing in salt water will leave your skin dry, itchy, and uncomfortable. Ordinary soap and shampoo does not lather well in salt water, but some saltwater soaps and shampoos can give you a positive bathing experience. Ultimately, bathing in salt water will not harm you, but it can make your body more uncomfortable than bathing in fresh water will.

How do I test my water for salt?

You can test your home’s water for salt with a salinity meter. These devices are easy to use and provide quick, accurate results about the salinity levels of your home’s water. While similar to a TDS (total dissolved solids) meter, a salinity meter measures exclusively the salt content in water. A TDS meter, on the other hand, measures all dissolved solids. Some advanced TDS meters may give you a breakdown of salinity in water, while simpler devices will only give you the total amount of dissolved solids in your water.

How to treat salt water for your home

There are two primary home treatment methods for salty water: reverse osmosis and distillation.

Reverse osmosis systems

Reverse osmosis (RO) is a multi-stage water treatment solution that produces extremely high-quality water. RO systems come in both point-of-use and whole-house configurations. The point-of-use RO systems are typically installed under a kitchen sink to filter water for drinking, cooking, and washing dishes. A whole-house reverse osmosis system treats all water that enters a home, allowing for clean water for bathing, brushing your teeth, gardening, and all other uses in the home.

Unlike carbon, KDF, ultrafiltration, water softeners, sediment filters, and ceramic filters, reverse osmosis systems can remove salt from water. RO membranes have an extremely small pore size, about 0.0001 micron. This means particles larger than 0.0000001 millimeters will be unable to pass through the other side of the membrane. Because of their fine micron rating, reverse osmosis systems can remove dissolved particles in water, including salt.

Advantages of reverse osmosis for treating salt water

  • Lower cost and energy use than water distillers
  • Connect to a faucet
  • Available in point-of-entry and whole-house configurations
  • Can reduce virtually all contaminants from water
  • Can add minerals back to water with a remineralization postfilter

Disadvantages of reverse osmosis for treating salt water

  • Require more complex installation than water distillers
  • Require filter cartridge replacement twice a year
  • Send water to drain during filtration process
  • Concentration of salinity may require the addition of a booster pump to increase pressure to the system

Learn more: What is a reverse osmosis system and how does it work?

RO system

Water distillers

Water distillers are the only alternative to reverse osmosis systems for removing salt from a home’s water. Water distillers work by turning water into vapor, condensing this vapor back into liquid, and collecting the liquid in a collection container. Because water evaporates at a different temperature than its contaminants, the result of distillation is extremely pure water. Distilled water is so pure that it is the only kind of treated water allowed in certain hospital and lab applications.

The major negatives of water distillers are their high energy use, slow production rate, and high initial cost. While reverse osmosis produces enough water to drink, cook with, and wash dishes, countertop water distillers only produce enough water for drinking.

Advantages of water distillers for treating salt water

  • Produce the highest water quality possible in a home system
  • No complex installation

Disadvantages of water distillers for treating salt water

  • Use more energy than RO
  • Higher cost per gallon than RO
  • Use up counter space

Learn more: What is distilled water and is it safe to drink?

Do countertop filters remove salt from water?

Water distillers are the only countertop water treatment method that removes salt from water. Other countertop filters, whether they use carbon, ceramic, or KDF media, cannot remove salt. To remove salt from water at home, you will need either a reverse osmosis system or a water distiller.

Do water pitcher filters remove salt from water?

Water pitcher filters, regardless of the filter media they contain, are not capable of removing salt from water. Most water pitcher filters contain an activated carbon media that removes the foul taste of chlorine from water. All water pitcher filters have a micron rating far too high to trap dissolved salt in water. If you wish to reduce salt in water, alongside many other contaminants, you will need a reverse osmosis system or a water distiller.

Do fridge filters remove salt from water?

No, fridge filters do not remove salt from water. Much like water pitcher filters, refrigerator filters typically use a combination of sediment and carbon filtration. While these filters allow tap water to taste better, they do not remove fine contaminants in water, such as salt. To remove these fine contaminants, you will need either a reverse osmosis system or a water distiller.

What are the best water filters for treating salt water?

Reverse osmosis systems are the best water systems for treating salt water because of their higher production rate, lower energy use, and lower cost per gallon than water distillers. Our water experts have selected their top-rated systems for use in home and commercial applications.

Best home water filters for treating salt water

Neo-Pure PRO-4 Series RO System

Best system for: Small to medium-sized homes

Our experts’ rank: Best

The Neo-Pure PRO-4 Series provides high quality, salt-free water with excellent efficiency. Its built-in permeate pump allows for better rejections and sends less water to the drain than other RO systems. The remineralization cartridge adds beneficial minerals back to water to give it a crisp, refreshing taste. This system is available in both 25 and 50 GPD configurations, accommodating both small and medium-sized homes with salt-free water. Our water experts rank the Neo-Pure PRO-4 Series the best reverse osmosis system for your home because of its high performance, excellent efficiency, and user-friendly design.


  • Included permeate pump
  • Remineralization cartridge
  • Excellent efficiency
  • User-friendly design

Pentair Freshpoint 50 GPD RO System

Best system for: Homes with tight under-sink spaces

Our experts’ rank: Better

The Pentair Freshpoint 50 GPD RO system is a compact reverse osmosis system that can fit in tight under-sink spaces. This system comes with a booster pump that allows quality water filtration in low water pressure applications. Its cartridges are color-coded based on the filtration media inside, making cartridge replacement simple and snappy. Because of its streamlined design, easy maintenance, and included booster pump, the Pentair Freshpoint 50 GPD RO system is an excellent drinking water filter system for water that is high in salinity.


  • Booster pump included
  • Fits in tight spaces
  • Easy cartridge replacement
  • Simple installation
  • Color-coded cartridges

Pentair Freshpoint 75 GPD RO

Best used for: Homes with large families

Our experts’ rank: Good

The Pentair Freshpoint 75 GPD RO system features many of the quality features of the 50 GPD system but includes a 75 GPD membrane. This system features a slim design to fit into even the most cramped under-sink spaces. Its click-in lock filter cartridges allow maintenance on the Pentair Freshpoint to be a breeze compared to traditional housings. If you need to desalinate your water at home and your family requires more drinking water than a 50 GPD membrane can provide, the Pentair Freshpoint 75 GPD RO system is a great fit for you.


  • Compact design
  • Click-in lock filter cartridges
  • High production rate for large families

Best commercial and whole-house water filters for treating salt water

Everpure EZ-RO Systems

Best for: Foodservice applications

Our experts’ rank: Best

Everpure EZ-RO systems produce high-quality RO water with a highly efficiency membrane. With membrane sizes ranging from 200 to 650 gallons per day, there is an EZ-RO system that best suits your foodservice needs. Its compact design allows it to fit easily in tight locations, and its built-in bypass and flush valves cut down on installation steps. The EZ-RO’s design also allows it to expand as your business needs expand. As needed, you can simply swap out filters and tanks to meet your operational demands.


  • Available in 200 to 650 GPD configurations
  • Compact design
  • High efficiency
  • Easy installation and maintenance
  • Expandable

Flexeon 500 GPD RO

Best for: Foodservice, commercial, or whole-house applications needing up to 250 gallons of low mineral water per day

Our experts’ rank: Better

The Flexeon 500 GPD RO system is ideal for foodservice or other commercial applications where less than 250 gallons of water per day are needed. This system provides high-quality RO water that can be used for a variety of applications. Its lightweight, compact design makes the Flexeon 500 GPD easy to install, service, and maintain. The components of this system are easily accessible, making filter replacement a straightforward process. The Flexeon 500 GPD is an excellent system for your whole-house and commercial reverse osmosis water needs. The setup for this system should also include a storage tank, repressurization pump, and UV disinfection system.


  • Lightweight design
  • Compact
  • Easy to maintain
  • Low operation costs

Flexeon 1500 GPD RO

Best for: Foodservice, commercial, or whole-house applications needing up to 750 gallons of low mineral water per day

Our experts’ rank: Better

The Flexeon 1500 GPD RO system comes with all the great features of the Flexeon 500 GPD system but with a higher permeate flow rate. This system features an ODP high-efficiency carbonator motor, a compact design, and expandable filters for up to 2000 GPD. The Flexeon comes pre-plumbed, wires, and assembled, and all of its components are easily accessible for uncomplicated maintenance. This system is an excellent option for whole-house and commercial applications needing up to 750 gallons of RO water per day. The setup for this system should also include a storage tank, repressurization pump, and UV disinfection system.


  • High production rate
  • Customizable
  • Easy to maintain
  • Low operation costs

Neo-Pure PRO-4 Series 75 GPD RO System

Best for: Small to medium-volume coffee shops

Our experts’ rank: Good

The Neo-Pure PRO-4 Series 75 GPD RO system produces water that lets the flavor of your coffee shine. This system includes a remineralization cartridge, adding flavor back to the clean water produced by the membrane. Its cartridges are easy to replace, allowing the occasional maintenance to be quick and simple. The built-in permeate pump prevents an abundance of wastewater from entering the drain, keeping environmental impact to a minimum. With its 75 GPD membrane, the Neo-Pure PRO-4 Series RO system is an excellent high-performance system for small coffee shops.


  • Included permeate pump
  • Remineralization cartridge
  • Excellent efficiency
  • User-friendly design


If you have any additional questions about how to prepare for salt water in your home, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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