Eww! Sewage Pollution in the Leaf River

On June 11th, I and 19 others canoed down the Leaf River near Hattiesburg, MS to observe first hand the South Hattiesburg Waste Treatment lagoon and its impact on the health of the river. If you have never been on the Leaf River, it is a beautiful place; its riverbanks are adorned by a mix of majestic deciduous trees spotted only occasionally by the presence of any kind of manmade structure. We saw people fishing from the bank and fishing boats. The cool amber water lapped playfully against the hull of our canoes beckoning us to come swim – so we did. About an hour after departing the boat launch at E. Hardy St, we beached our vessels on a white sandy beach just upstream of the South lagoon and dove in.Given the purpose of our trip, I was surprised by the crisp, cleanliness of the water: a fact further supported by the discovery of the biggest mussel I have ever seen! Despite being shoulder deep in cool water, I could clearly see my toes as they wiggled on the gravely bottom. After swimming for about an hour, we had lunch and then decided to continue our adventure and check out the South lagoon.The lagoon is impossible to miss; its outermost levees stood about 30 ft. off the surface of the water and were dotted with multiple effluent and overflow pipes. One of these openings was rapidly discharging dark brown, frothy slurry, which sloshed across the surface of the rocks until it bubbled into the river. Gross! I watched – disgusted – as the effluent swirled into the river, befouling its warm brown hue with dark, seemingly untreated wastewater. Why would people allow this? Why spoil a river with such a high fishing and recreational potential? Seeing this in person made it easy to see why the South lagoon has been cited for violating the Clean Water Act 10 times since 2006. Despite being instantly repulsed by the scene at hand, my curiosity got the better of me and I climbed the Eastern wall of the lagoon to get a first hand look at the facility. Upon reaching the summit, I looked out across the vast lagoons and witnessed the huge aerators spitting murky brown water into the air and my nostrils were instantly offended by a rotten egg-like, musk-ridden stench. I snapped a few photographs and climbed back down to the canoes waiting below.Even though the South lagoon has received several community complaints and multiple water quality violations, the city has still not taken the steps necessary to mediate the impacts of the lagoon. Although the city has invested in temporary fixes, such as chemical treatments, they have not put forth long-term plans for the restructuring of the facility. Given the increasing reliance on the waste treatment lagoons by residents and businesses, Hattiesburg residents deserve a real solution now to ensure a healthy environment and minimize the risk to human health.If you live in Mississippi, click here to urge the EPA, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, and the city of Hattiesburg to clean-up the stinky South sewage lagoon! You can also check out more pictures from the trip here.Gilbert Ramseur is GRN’s Mississippi Campaign Assistant

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