Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Senator Cochran attempts to use flooding disaster to jump start rejected Yazoo Backwater Project

Cochran questions canceling of Yazoo Backwater Project

MISSISSIPPI DELTA — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said he is confident that the State of Mississippi, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies are doing all they can to prepare Mississippians for widespread flooding this week.

Cochran, who serves on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Army Corps of Engineers, indicated that he would pay close attention to the flood mitigation resources that may be required in the Mississippi Delta after the flooding ends.

At a hearing last month, Cochran questioned the Corps’ plan to meet ongoing flood protection needs in the lower Mississippi Delta if, for instance, federal funding for the Yazoo Backwater Project is eliminated. All unobligated funding balances for the project would be cancelled under the President’s FY2012 budget request to Congress.

“The flooding we will see in the Delta this week could very well accentuate the risks of simply canceling flood control undertakings like the Yazoo Backwater Project,” Cochran said.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

U.S. House to vote on deregulation of Clean Water Act to exempt spraying of pesticides into rivers and streams.

Editor's Note: Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson is a co-sponsor of this bill. Congressmen Alan Nunnelee, Gregg Harper and Steve Palazzo are not. However, that does not mean they won't vote for it. This is one of those call your Congressmen moments. Bill is slated for action on March 30. Follow the links on their names for contact information.

Bad Bill Will Mean More Pesticides in Our Water
Mae Wu
BY: Mae Wue
When I was growing up, we had a creek (pronounced “crick” where I’m from) running through our backyard that my little sister and I would play in all spring and summer long. We would be soaked head to toe by the end of the day from running through the water, looking for tadpoles and chasing butterflies.
It’s a great memory, and I hope someday my son will have similarly fond memories of playing in the stream that runs through my parents’ neighborhood.  But if the chemical industry special interests have their way, we all need to be careful about letting our kids play in the local waterbodies, or about fishing in a nearby river, or swimming in a lake. 
Right now, a bill - HR 872 - is quickly making its way through the House of Representatives that puts all the rivers, streams, lakes and other water bodies in the U.S. at risk of pesticide contamination.  This bill seeks to exempt the spraying of pesticides into or near a waterbody from the Clean Water Act.  This is madness.
Supporters of this bill want to rely solely on the federal pesticide law -- called FIFRA for short (“fif-rah”) -- to protect our waters from these toxic chemicals.  Under FIFRA, the Environmental Protection Agency registers pesticides that can be sold and used in the U.S. if the Agency finds that its use “will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.”  
But FIFRA does not protect our waters from pesticide contamination.
How do we know? There are over 1,000 waterbodies in the U.S. known to be impaired by pesticide contamination - and many more are likely polluted but are not tested. The US Geological Survey has found pesticides in every stream sampled in a nationwide survey. Pesticide contamination is rampant: from California to Kansas to Illinois to New Jersey - almost every state across the country has pesticide-contaminated waters. 
This is no theoretical concern. Examples of pesticides destroying more than the target pest abound. An irrigation district’s spraying of a pesticide into their irrigation canal ended up contaminating a nearby stream and killing 92,000 juvenile steelhead trout. These chemicals are designed specifically to kill things, and it should come as no surprise that once they enter the water, they wreak havoc on the health of aquatic plants and animals, and they work their way up our food chain and into our drinking water supplies.   
When Congress first passed the Clean Water Act almost 40 years ago, its aim was to restore the most polluted waters or protect pristine waters from contamination. One program - called NPDES (“nip-deez”) permits - allowed the Agency to set limits on the amount and type of pollution that can be dumped into a waterbody by taking into consideration things like how the waterbody is used (for fishing or swimming) and whether significant fish species rely on the waters.  None of these things is considered by FIFRA.  (For curious readers, check out our factsheet for a side-by-side comparison of the differences between FIFRA and the Clean Water Act). 
At its core, FIFRA is about getting pesticides to market.  The Clean Water Act is about minimizing pollution. We need the Clean Water Act to protect us from FIFRA-registered pesticides.
But those special interest groups have convinced many representatives on both sides of the aisle that it's not necessary, that FIFRA alone can protect us.  They have marched in farmers and ranchers bemoaning the burden that this permit would have on them, on agriculture, and on our economy.  But they forget to mention that this permit does not apply to the vast majority of ranchers and farmers. (The only farmers this would apply to would be those whose crops actually grow in a waterbody.) 
In a few days, on Wednesday, March 30, the House will be voting on this terrible bill. Before they do, your representative needs to hear that you want to be able to use your local lakes and rivers without worrying about being poisoned by pesticides.  If you fish, or swim, or paddle or just want clean water, join  to stop this disastrous bill.   

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wildlife foundation says initial spill-related projects produced substantial results

The Recovered Oil Fund for Wildlife established by BP and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill enabled NFWF and its partners to put several conservation projects on the ground and realize substantial benefits for wildlife - all within six months, according to a new report by NFWF.

NFWF’s “Progress Report” discusses the benefits of wetlands projects designed to enhance the survival of thousands of migratory birds, and explains that the benefits were even greater than expected, as they offset significant drought conditions in the region in 2010. The report also estimates that the sea turtle projects implemented by NFWF will likely save 800-900 sea turtles annually, and increase the number of sea turtle hatchlings by a minimum of 50,000 per year.

NFWF Executive Director Jeff Trandahl says that when NFWF launched its efforts, “we recognized that time was of the essence if we wanted to minimize the effect of the spill on vulnerable species.” The Deepwater Horizon oil spill came at a critical time for wildlife: only weeks before the sea turtle nesting season, and just prior to the seasonal migrations of many species of birds.

“Our strategy targeted species most likely to be affected and stressed the need to direct resources to the Gulf as quickly as possible. Our goal was to minimize the effect of the spill on vulnerable species and boost populations of those species outside of the direct spill area, promoting their long-term survival,” says Trandahl.

“There is still more that can be done but we are encouraged by results of the initial projects and the strong stewardship that NFWF has demonstrated in working with a variety of partners to implement projects to help protect and restore wildlife along the Gulf Coast,” says Dave Rainey, Vice President for Science, Technology, Environment and Regulatory Affairs for BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization.

Within days of the Deepwater Horizon incident, NFWF immediately convened its own experts, federal and state agencies and regional conservation partners to assemble a portfolio of projects to protect imperiled wildlife. On June 22, 2010, BP announced that it would donate the net revenue it received from the sale of oil recovered from the spill to NFWF, and provided $10 million in initial funding to NFWF. As of February 17, 2011, BP has contributed $22 million to the fund.

Plans for future projects
In the fall, NFWF worked with a technical advisory committee to shape a competitive Request for Proposals to direct remaining funds to similarly important projects that will help bolster fish and wildlife populations impacted by the spill.

In addition to continuing investments to benefit the Gulf’s migratory birds and sea turtles, NFWF anticipates making investments to build new oyster reef habitat, conserve important commercial and recreational fish populations through innovative management strategies and gear improvements, and add capacity to treat injured marine mammals.

By the deadline for proposals, NFWF had received 120 applications requesting approximately $41 million. Final grant decisions are expected to be announced in early April following review by the technical advisory committee and approval by the NFWF Board of Directors.

Significance of Recovered Oil Fund for Wildlife
Trandahl also noted that the wildlife fund established by BP’s contribution is significant in two areas.
First, the fund was created as a voluntary contribution by BP that could not be used to meet mitigation requirements. This meant that NFWF has complete discretion over the funds and how they could be used to bolster wildlife populations, Trandahl says. In addition, it means the funds and resulting projects will not be used to offset any liability that BP may have for natural resource damages resulting from the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Second, he notes that BP made the funds available to NFWF as quickly as possible. “Timing was of the essence and NFWF would only be able to achieve its results if we could act quickly to get our projects up and running,” says Trandahl. “Normally, it would be several months before proceeds from a sale would be available but BP made a commitment to advance $10 million to NFWF immediately in order to launch our first phase of projects.

This was critical to the success of the initial programs, since the sea turtle nesting season had just begun, and millions of migratory birds were about to descend on the Gulf region.

Trandahl notes that there is a link between the natural resources and the people who live throughout the Gulf. “While these are very diverse communities, there is still a strong link to natural resources in general and fish and wildlife in particular. BP understood the importance of that connection and the broader impact this incident would have on these communities.”

To read the NFWF report, click here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ross Barnett Reservoir and surrounding waters ripe for the picking.

BY: B. Keith Plunkett

If there is ever an easy answer to the often posed question about where to have an worry-free paddle without the worry of shuttling in Central Mississippi, it has to be the Ross Barnett Reservoir. This week Lucy's Revenge, in conjunction with the newly formed Central Mississippi Paddling Mafia, took to the Ross Barnett with a vengeance in an attempt to see what she had to offer. The idea was to find a way to hit the water quickly and put in a few miles after work, or on a quick whim.

We had no problem.

On Tuesday afternoon Kelly McGinnis, Dawn Henderson, Sharon and I launched from Pelahatchie Shore Park for a sunset tour of Pelahatchie Bay. It was beautful enough that my video from the 4 mile trip inspired another paddling friend, David Ogletree to hit the water this past Sunday to see if he could spot a few of the many hundreds of white pelicans we surprised on the north side of the bay.

The full moon rises over the Pearl River on Friday, March 18.
 Friday night brought a full moon, and an opportune time for an 8 mile paddle from Ratliff Ferry to Tommy's Trading Post at Goshen Springs. Kelly, Sharon and I were joined by Michelle Blair and Daniel Stuart. We watched a beautiful sunset and moonrise and paddled past a few campsites as people readied for what turned out to be a sensational weekend of weather. We made it in 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Saturday morning I awoke determined not to get caught at the house. So, I and my youngest son Rickey headed out for an overnight trip down the Pearl River from the spillway to Lefluer's Bluff; a 12 mile trip. With the help of my trusty shuttling assistant and oldest son Isaac, I dropped my equipment and Rickey at the spillway, drove my vehicle to Lefluer's Bluff and was driven back to start our adventure.

Rickey Plunkett on the Pearl River.
The launch at the spillway was crowded with fisherman, but just beyond the first river bend the noise of the spillway and the mass of humanity surrounding it was already a memory. The water was pushing at a brisk 4 miles per hour, and we easily floated a quick 4 miles before deciding on a sandbar to make camp.

Rickey spent hours that afternoon sitting in the sand next to the river, digging holes, reading, and just being a kid. There's not a video game in the world that can compete with that. There's nothing quite like seeing your kids lose themselves in the slow pace of the outdoors. That evening, we watched another awe inspiring moon rise over the trees, and after hours of rare uninterupted conversation by the campfire we were serenaded to sleep by a chorus of owls singing along to the background sounds of water churning past fallen limbs.

A beautiful sunrise the next morning and a couple of hot chocolates, and we were packed and back on the water. An almost 8 mile trip should have taken us a couple of hours, but the Pearl River was pushing us along fast, and we were landing at Lefluer's Bluff in just over an hour. I'm glad I got the opportunity to take Rickey with me on this trip, but I'm accustomed to putting in over 40 miles in a weekend. I still wasn't satisfied and I wanted more.

The paddling gods were smiling. By the time Rickey and I stopped off for a quick bite at my friend Roberto's restaurant, my phone was buzzing with another opportunity. Kelly was sending out a call to all members of "the family" to meet up at Pelahatchie Shore Park for an afternoon of exploration. My reply to his text was a simple, "I'm in."

Rickey stayed at home to shower and rest up in preparation for a new week at school. I headed south out of Flora towards Ross Barnett, yet again. Entering Pelahatchie Shore Park, I found a mass of people walking, fishing, disc golfing, and some just laying out on the grass looking up at the cottony clouds. There were no signs of my crew, so I found a parking place to wait. That's when David Ogletree drove up and got my attention and we began talking about where I had spotted the white pelicans a couple of days before. A few minutes later my crew began to arrive; first David Christopher then, Michelle and her husband Kelvin, finally Kelly and his daughter and a friend.

We stayed away from the boat launch. It was a site of constant action and turmoil from boaters loading an unloading their fishing rigs. Instead we launched from a small inlet with easy access. Paddling around the tip of the peninsula and avoiding the boats, we headed east. The water began to lose it's chop as we found ourselves among a couple of small islands and interior waterways. We crossed underneath Spillway Road and into a wooded area adjacent to Millcreek Subdivision, finally running into an impassable weir about two and a half miles into the trip. Were the water not being released at such a clip from the spillway due to heavy rains, we likely could have paddled another mile. Forced to turn back, we made our way through the wooded area again. The west side of the little tributary provided a little visual entertainment: 10-12 foot tall red blooming azalea's, old forgotten camellia's still showing some blooms from their winter show, and the show of light purple wisteria climbing over and through the woods as if in search of something.

We talked of future paddles; our newly formed band of boating brethren.

The summer days are thankfully long, and opportunities are everywhere on and around "The Rez".

Cross posted at Lucy's Revenge: The Alzheimer's Paddling Project

Monday, March 14, 2011

Marsh Restoration proposed on lower Escatawpa and Deer Island

Marsh restoration planned in 2 Mississippi Department of Marine Resources projects

Proposed marsh restoration projects on the lower Escatawpa River and the northeast corner of Deer Island are the restart of a 2002 plan to use dredged material to nurture the coast's ecosystem, said a Mississippi Department of Marine Resources official.

The eastern end of Deer Island is seen from Fort Maurepas Park in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
"This is all about trying to capture as much dredged material from as many projects as possible," said George Ramseur of the department's Office of Coastal Ecology.

The program intends to have sites in all 3 coast counties where dredge material can be used to rebuild marsh instead of it being hauled away, he said.

In some cases, dredged material has been dumped offshore or into landfills, he said.

"If we dig that material out and completely remove it from the system, then we have automatically lost right up front," Ramseur said. "What we are doing will at least provide some interim recovery and it will help us."

Ramseur cited Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality studies that found that the state lost about 8,500 acres of marsh between 1950 and 1990.

"The lower Escatawpa River is an area that has seen particularly high rates of this marsh loss. This project is designed to re-establish some of this lost marsh, which is so critical for both recreational and commercial fisheries' productivity."

Another advantage is that using dredge material for such projects can be less expensive "than it is to basically throw it away," he said.

About 10 acres of marsh on the Escatawpa River just west of the Mississippi 613 bridge in Moss Point could be restored using material from a nearby commercial site, according to the permit application.

The request is to place 24,000 cubic yards of bucket-dredged material into water bottoms typically less than 1.5 feet deep, the permit application states.

Ramseur said a number of things cause marsh loss, but the Escatawpa River has been dredged for navigation and that changes the way the river carries and distributes sediment.

"What we do know is that any material removed by dredging or other means needs to go back into the system, preferably as close to the source as possible," he said. "Marsh is one of the most valuable coastal habitats, so that is our first choice for which to use the material."

The Deer Island project plans to create about 50 acres of tidal marsh and dredge-filled habitat on the northeast shore, which is currently water bottoms and pine-grass uplands.

Depending on the need for wave protection, the 3,200-foot-long and 12-foot-wide dike will end in open water or curve about 600 feet southwest to rejoin Deer Island, stated a DMR news release. The dike may be left open if turbidity is not high, the news release stated.

The area within the dike is intended to hold about 400,000 cubic yards of dredge material over a 10-year period or until all available capacity has been filled, it stated.

The Escatawpa River and Deer Island sites will be allowed to naturally re-vegetate, but plantings may be made, the permit applications state. "The Escatawpa project is really the first standalone new permit for the program and this 50-acre Deer Island permit is the second," Ramseur said.

"We are kind of working our way through the process with the other agencies," he said.

Both applications state that a variance to a Mississippi Coastal Program guideline discouraging permanent filling of coastal wetlands is required. The permit applications go before the state Commission on Marine Resources. There's no timetable as to when the commission would review the applications.

(Video) Kayak race a big hit in Jackson County

JACKSON COUNTY, MS  (WLOX) - Saturday's "Battle on the Bayou" kayak and canoe race in Jackson County was a big hit. In just it's second year, the number of participants was nearly double last year's turnout.

And they came to the coast from as far away as California and Wisconsin. A total of 190 boats left the starting point at Gulf Hills Resort, with participants paddling nearly 10 miles along Fort Bayou to the finish line at "The Shed." 

Colorful kayaks covered the waters of Fort Bayou behind Gulf Hills Resort. Racers warmed up and jockeyed for position before the cannon sounded to start the second "Battle on the Bayou."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oil cleanup crews leaving Mississippi's barrier islands

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS--Visitors to Mississippi's barrier islands this spring and summer will notice something different: Very few oil cleanup workers.

Dan Brown, superintendent of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, told The Mississippi Press that cleanup will stop on March 1, so as to not disturb the nesting areas for shorebirds and turtles. The work will resume on Aug. 15th.

Brown said workers have already removed a lot of oil from the barrier islands of Petit Bois, Horn, West Ship, East Ship and Cat. But he admits there is still more there.

Last week, the Coast Guard released a report saying the Gulf beach cleanup has reached a point where crews, heavy equipment and thorough scrubbing can cause more damage to the ecosystem than good. The report said recent oil samples show weathered oil found along beaches has lost the majority of the toxic compounds in it and the oil left on shores meets federal safety thresholds for people.

Terry Morris, a retired National Park Service ranger and oil spill coordinator, said maintenance and monitoring teams will continue to check the island beaches from March through August. He said areas with oil and without birds will be cleaned.