It is hard to believe, but April of this year marks the ninth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon (a/k/a BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Those nine years have involved not only the unprecedented response efforts in the immediate aftermath of the spill, but also settlement negotiations, and the implementation of projects to help restore the natural resources and the economy of the Gulf of Mexico region.
While it took several years of behind-the-scenes work among the Gulf states and federal agencies to reach a settlement, part of which includes $2.17 billion for Mississippi, you may not be aware of the current efforts to implement projects that benefit the Gulf Coast’s natural resources and its economy.
As the agency charged by Gov. Phil Bryant with managing the Deepwater Horizon restoration efforts in Mississippi, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has held multiple public meetings, including its annual Restoration Summit, across the Coast to seek input on the types of projects that are needed. In addition, the recommendations made by GoCoast2020 and its members have been invaluable in creating local, impactful projects.
I would like to highlight a couple of projects that are currently being implemented, beginning with the Water Quality Improvement Program. Common threats to Mississippi coastal water quality include urban development, failing wastewater and sewer infrastructure, and sedimentation — all of which impact water quality moving into the Mississippi Sound. Water quality entering the Sound can be improved with projects that upgrade, repair and replace wastewater infrastructure at its source.
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Investing in water quality improvement provides multiple ecological and community benefits, including habitat restoration and enhancement, improved stormwater management, and enhanced outdoor recreation areas for residents and tourists. Restoration actions associated with the Water Quality Improvement Program include tracking and identifying the sources of contamination, system improvements to mitigate urban runoff, discharge and overflow issues, as well as monitoring and modeling activities to give us a better understanding of water quality dynamics in the Mississippi Sound and the surrounding coastal waters.
Tracking activities are underway to identify and document sources of water quality impairments, and MDEQ plans to implement several projects for specific water quality improvements this year. To increase efficiency, the program leverages several funding streams to provide planning and technical support for the actions needed for water quality improvement.
Another exciting project underway, and nearing completion, is the creation of the Hancock County Marsh Living Shoreline. This project, using living shoreline techniques, which include natural and artificial breakwater materials, will reduce erosion and the loss of marsh shoreline as well as re-establish habitat for fish, birds and wildlife in the region. More than six miles of living shoreline and 46 acres of oyster reef have been constructed, and the next phase of the project involves the creation of 46 acres of marsh.
This brief overview cannot cover all the various aspects of restoration. I encourage you to find out more about MDEQ’s restoration program, these projects and the other 66 current projects by going to our website at restore.ms. You can sign up for updates and our other outreach methods. Your input will continue to guide us as we improve the Coast’s beautiful natural resources.