(Information provided by the Mississippi Attorney General’s office.)
In a press release, Attorney General Jim Hood announced Thursday (10/24) that he will file suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to require the federal government to pay for the extensive environmental and economic damage to the Mississippi Gulf Coast caused by the repeated and lengthy openings of the Bonnet Carré Spillway in 2019.
The lawsuit, which will be filed in the name of the State of Mississippi, will also seek to protect the Gulf Coast from future damage by requiring the Corps to adopt updated and scientifically sound methods of flood control and by requiring the Corps to consider the impacts of spillway openings on Mississippi. Federal law requires the State to give the Corps 60 notice before filing the lawsuit.
“Mississippi should not be the federal government’s dumping ground for polluted flood waters,” General Hood said. “Our State’s environment and economy must be considered and protected just as the Corps protects the environment and economy of our neighboring states.”
The Bonnet Carré Spillway was opened for a record 123 days in 2019. Based on Corps’ numbers, a total of 1.35 trillion cubic feet (almost 10 trillion gallons) of Mississippi River water was discharged through the spillway during 2019. That discharge is equivalent to the volume of more than 15 million Olympic-size swimming pools which, if laid end to end, would circle the Earth more than 18 times. According to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, the fresh water of the Mississippi River carries with it industrial pollutants from 31 states and two Canadian provinces. When the Corps repeatedly opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway in 2019, trillions of gallons of this polluted fresh water was dumped into the Mississippi Sound.
The environmental and economic damage to the Mississippi Gulf Coast from the influx of trillions of gallons of polluted fresh water has been devastating. The Mississippi Sound is home to abundant populations of oysters, crabs, shrimp, fish, and dolphins.
“The spillway opening has destroyed the State’s oyster reefs, decimated the crab and shrimp catch, and killed more dolphins than the 2010 BP Oil Spill,” General Hood said.
Recreational fishing has been damaged because of toxic algae blooms caused by the influx of fresh water. Coast beaches were closed to swimming during the height of the tourist season because of the algae blooms. The full extent of the damage to Mississippi’s environment and economy may not be known for years. And worse yet, repeated openings of the Bonnet Carré Spillway in 2019 and future years will likely cause more overall harm to Mississippi than the one-time BP Oil Spill.
In a press release, the Attorney General announced three goals for the lawsuit against the Corps:
- First, General Hood will seek to recover funds to compensate for the harm to the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s economy and environment.
- Second, General Hood will seek to recover funds to rebuild and rehabilitate the oyster reefs and other damaged marine habitat and populations.
- Third, General Hood will seek to limit future damage by directing the Corps to study the environmental impact of spillway openings on the Mississippi Sound and to adopt new procedures for flood control. The protocols for operating spillways are outdated, having been established in the 1930’s and 1950’s, and do not address the present and future conditions of the Mississippi River.
General Hood stated: “The current approach to managing the Mississippi River must be reexamined. The Corps must look both up-river and down-river to find ways to better protect Mississippians and the Mississippi Sound. I refuse to accept that the country that tests rocket engines at the Stennis Space Center cannot find a way to manage the Mississippi River without harming the Mississippi Sound. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. This lawsuit will give the Corps the will to change its practices to protect Mississippi.”
“Our State is blessed with abundant seafood and beautiful beaches. Many hardworking Mississippians depend on fishing and tourism to make a living. For too long, Mississippi’s interest have been ignored. If we do not take immediate action to require the Corps to change its approach to flood control and limit the use of the Bonnet Carré Spillway, these ways of life will be threatened,” General Hood said. The Attorney General is also working with the Secretary of State who serves as the State Land Commissioner to explore all options concerning damages to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “As we move forward, I intend to work closely with all stakeholders, including the Gulf Coast’s county and municipal officials, along with the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, to ensure that the Corps fully understands the damage caused to the Mississippi Sound.”
The lawsuit will seek relief under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and contain other claims under federal law and Mississippi law.
Click here to view the letter to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers