Conservation groups: Miss. lax in water protection

Published 6:06 pm Thursday, December 3, 2009

Conservationists say Mississippi’s lakes, rivers and streams are not getting the best protection possible.

The Gulf Restoration Network and six other groups say the state makes it too complicated for average citizens to nominate a waterway as an “Outstanding National Resource Water.”

The designation sets restrictions on what kind of pollutants could be discharged into bodies of water.

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State Sen. Deborah Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, said Tuesday that Mississippi is one of the few states without a process to set the designation. She said more waterways need protection.

“It would be another tool in our toolbox to clean up these water bodies that are supposed to be fishable and swimmable and drinkable,” Dawkins said. “But right now I’d settle for usable, like canoeable. It would give us another hook to clean things up and not have extra discharges, like people just letting their septic tanks pour right in.”

The Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality — a seven-member board that sets policy for the Department of Environmental Quality — is considering whether to update wastewater regulations for the first time since 2001. Agency spokesman Robbie Wilbur said public comments are being considered.

Wilbur said waterways with the “Outstanding National Resource Water” designation would have to be “exceptionally high quality in terms of recreational and ecological significance.”

“Waters with this designation could be subject to significant restriction on future uses including upstream and the surrounding lands,” Wilbur said.

The seven groups pushing for the extra protections on water quality sent a letter to MDEQ executive director Trudy Fisher asking the commission to set the “Outstanding National Resource Water” designation for eight bodies of water:

— Bear Creek from Tishomingo State Park to the Alabama state line.

— The east fork of the Tombigbee River.

— Noxubee River from the Alabama state line to Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge.

— Escatawpa River from the Alabama state line to Interstate 10.

— Black Creek from I-59 south to the Pascagoula River.

— Red Creek from U.S. 49 to Big Black Creek.

— Chunky River from I-20 to the Chickasawhay River.

— Wolf River from Mississippi Highway 26 to Bay St. Louis.