Drinking water safe despite river oil spill

The St. Charles Parish water intakes on the Mississippi River were temporarily shut off last weekend as a precaution after an oil spill in Vacherie threatened to pollute drinking water downstream.

The spill occurred early Saturday morning after a tugboat struck a barge and 31,500 gallons of light crude oil spilled into the river.

Following the incident the Coast Guard shut down traffic on the waterway for a 65-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between College Point Landing in Vacherie and the Chalmette Slip.

After the spill occurred, St. Charles Parish officials reported that they were closely inspecting the water supply and found no contaminants. However, as a precaution, the parish’s water intake was shut off for part of Sunday. In addition, the Coast Guard deployed booms to protect shorelines and water intakes in parishes along the spill area.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Jaclyn Young said the Coast Guard coordinated with the affected parishes concerning drinking water safety and environmental contamination.

“We have been working closely with Jefferson, St. John, St. James and St. Charles parishes. All of the parishes report their drinking water is safe,” Young said.  

Young said the Coast Guard has shifted their focus to cleanup efforts in the affected areas.

“We are conducting shoreline clean up assessments,” she said. “We are shifting authorization to decontamination for all vessels and facilities that were contaminated by the oil.”

In St. Charles Parish, Young said only a few vessels and structures were contaminated and that cleanup crews were working to correct any potential environmental damage.

“They are responding to any reports of oil and they are conducting an assessment and doing the power washing and cleaning to make that vessel safe to transit or cleaning the sheen,” she said.   

Young could not provide an estimate on when Coast Guard activities surrounding the spill would be completed. The blockade initially stopped 30 vessels from traveling through the area over the weekend, but the river was reopened on Monday and vessels traveling through the affected area were subject to speed restrictions.


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