Sewage in Mississippi’s Bowie River

Last I joined a group of local citizens, along with GRN’s Scott Eustis, on a canoe trip down the Bowie River near Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The Bowie River, which is also sometimes known as the Bouie, is popular spot for fishing and canoeing, but portions of the river have also been severely damaged by a polluting sewage treatment plant and historic mining activities which have turned parts of the river into mined-out lakebeds. Besides enjoying a beautiful stretch of river, we were interested in seeing first-hand how the Hattiesburg North sewage lagoon is impacting the health of the river.Our trip began along a relatively pristine stretch of the river, with little riverside development, clear water that allowed us to spot the shiners and other fish below the surface, and beautiful cypress trees and other foliage along the riverside. I even managed to take an unintentional dip in the cool water when our canoe tipped over along the way!Hanging out by Bowie Upstream of the Sewage OutfallAfter several members of our group took a break on a sandbar right before the sewage outfall, we preceded onward to the not-so-pleasant part of the journey. Once we reached the area where the sewage lagoon dumps into the river, a strong odor was immediately apparent. Scott, who had been testing the clarity of the water with a tool called a secchi disk throughout the trip, quickly began to notice brown “biosolid” flakes in the water which formed a disgusting bath tub ring around his kayak. The pools of slack water immediately downstream, populated with bottom feeders like gar and mullet, were essentially acting as extensions of the sewage lagoon – continuing to process the human waste that the lagoon had failed to. As you can imagine, we rushed to put as much distance as possible between us and the sewage lagoon!Secchi disk, with brown “biosolid” flakes.For years, both the Hattiesburg North and South sewage lagoons have been polluting local rivers and have been regularly cited for violations of clean water laws. Since 2005, the North lagoon has been cited for 22 violations of clean water laws. In the first quarter of this year, the North lagoon was cited for violating their permitted limits for fecal coliform by 475%.It’s clearly time for the city of Hattiesburg, which owns the sewage lagoons, to take responsibility and move to clean up their mess. GRN will continue to work with community members to push the city, and state and federal environmental agencies to do the right thing for Hattiesburg, and all the people who live and play downstream from these polluting sewage facilities.If you live in Mississippi, you can help by clicking here and urging the EPA, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, and the city of Hattiesburg to clean up the sewage lagoons.Raleigh Hoke is GRN’s Mississippi Organizer.

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