Second opening of Bonnet Carre Spillway could be worse for Mississippi

Updated: May. 21, 2019 at 4:10 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - All eyes are on the waters of the Mississippi Sound due to the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana for the second time this year.

In the 88-year history of the spillway, it has never been opened twice. It was opened to relieve flooding pressure along the Mississippi River.

But what’s good for Louisiana may not be for Mississippi.

The news the Commission on Marine Resources heard Tuesday was not good. With the opening of the spillway, literally hundreds of millions of gallons of fresh water will eventually pour into the Mississippi Sound.

This opening is even worse than the first one for everything that lives in saltwater.

“This second opening has a high potential of impact because the water temperatures are higher than they are in March and April, and we’re into May now,” said Dr. Paul Mickle, the chief scientific officer with the Department of Marine Resources (DMR).

During the first 80 years, the spillway was opened only a handful of times. In recent years, it has been opened a lot more than that. That’s a big concern for Joe Jewell with DMR.

“We are seeing a repeated pattern of the Bonnet Carre, and we’re very concerned about the cumulative impact as well as those for this year alone,” Jewell said.

Dr. Mickle agreed.

“It’s definitely a major concern seeing that trend when you have so many years of non-openings and then clusters such as we’ve seen since 2011 of these multiple openings,” he said.

Now when we think about the infusion of all those millions of gallons of fresh water coming into the Mississippi Sound, we think of the aquatic life that’s harmed, which is mostly oysters.

But it goes much deeper than that, according to Mickle.

“From marine mammal potential impact, all the way down to crabs. Even the microorganisms, the invertebrates in the mud and the sand are impacted by fresh water. So, pretty much from top to bottom,” he explained.

And the longer the spillway remains open, the adverse marine impact can only get worse.

Officials with DMR will continue to monitor the impact of the spillway opening, which could last for several more weeks.

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