This summer, Gulf Restoration Network and our members Bobby Tubre and his grandfather, Don Williams, in Saucier reached an agreement with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) on a new treatment permit for Lakeview R/V Resort. To arrive at this agreement, it took three years of negotiations and advocacy in the form of correspondence with MDEQ, many individual phone calls, one conference call, two different private water quality testing labs, site visits by MDEQ staff, water samples examined by MDEQ labs, plus two sets of comment letters from GRN, correspondence with the Mississippi Department of Health, and a report by WLOX TV Action Reporter A.J. Giardina.
Our introduction to Mr. Tubre was in the summer of 2014 when he found me through contacts on the Coast and explained what was happening next door at the Lakeview R/V Resort – a campground with a lagoon and sprayfield sewage treatment system located just about 5 miles north of D’Iberville, Mississippi and near the south boundary of the DeSoto National Forest in Harrison County.
Tuxachanie Creek is an attractive coastal blackwater stream running through the National Forest. For most of the last 5 years, this Creek has been receiving poorly treated sewage discharge running from the campground’s lagoon /sprayfield wastewater treatment system. These systems are designed so the surface vegetation and the soils under sprayfields absorb the water and don’t produce any runoff. However, runoff here flowed across Bobby’s land before running down a small lowland creek on the National Forest property and into Tuxachanie Creek about a mile away.
Bobby was tired of having brown stinking sprayfield liquid flowing onto his land and making its way to Tuxachanie Creek. So he took a sample, and hired a commercial laboratory to test for sewage bacteria. The lab reported the bacteria were over legal limits and “too numerous to count.” That’s when he contacted me and we started the process of pushing for improvements.
The resolution came this summer with a much tighter State Operating Permit that requires Lakeview R/V Resort to now chlorinate what they pump from the lagoon to the sprayfield. They also must comply with bacteria limits, and record and report the quantity sprayed using a flow meter. A regular file checkup of discharge monitoring reports for this permit will show whether the treatment system is meeting the permit’s limits and requirements. There is better accountability and a sharper regulatory hook in case the treatment operation deteriorates.
This one problem that took three years to resolve is certainly not Tuxachanie Creek’s only water quality worry. Tuxachanie contributes to Biloxi Bay which also receives the Biloxi River and the Tchoutacabouffa River which together capture big areas of three counties – basically everything south of the edge of the Red Creek watershed, and everything east of the Wolf River watershed. With this improved permit, we haven’t solved all the problems, but this case illustrates how to tackle one of them, and that you need people like Bobby and Don who care, and are willing to speak out, push, and persist.
Bobby and his grandfather are our members, and it has been an honor to work shoulder to shoulder with them in persuading the MDEQ that this permit was failing its purpose. They cared enough about what goes across their land and into Tuxachanie Creek to stand up and say something. Water quality problems like this one in the headwaters of Biloxi Bay affect wildlife and people downstream, but without individuals willing to stand up, show how they are affected, make some noise, and push for a solution, the process can be abstract and impersonal. People who call state regulators to task on obvious problems in their neighborhoods are never abstractions. Their issues are quite concrete, and need action.
Improvements to wastewater treatment permits boost water quality. This case highlighted a local, individual problem, but fits into a larger perspective. A broad, systematic effort to eliminate sewage treatment problems upstream could improve the success rate for the ongoing habitat improvements in Biloxi Bay, other coastal bays and the Mississippi Sound that the BP Restoration money is funding now and for a decade to come. We wrangled over one inadequate permit for three years. Imagine a BP Restore Act funded project to seek and find problem permits, watershed-by-watershed, in the coastal river systems. MDEQ manages both the permit files, and the millions in BP money for habitat projects to restore oyster bottoms, marshes and shorelines in the Mississippi Sound. It would make sense to support these habitat projects with improved water quality by finding other existing permits like this one that need “tightening up”. MDEQ’s own permit files hold much of the information needed to start.
Andrew Whitehurst is GRN's Water Program Director and works on this type of issue in Mississippi with GRN members and residents.