GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) -The Army Corps of Engineers began closing bays of the Bonnet Carre spillway Monday morning.
The spillway has been opened for 115 days in 2019. This marked the first time the Corps was forced to open Bonnet Carre twice in one year and the first time it was opened in back to back years.
The spillway was opened to control flooding along the Mississippi River, forcing water into the Mississippi Sound and taking a toll on fisheries, the environment and tourism.
Governor Phil Bryant’s impact task force is looking at the damage done and what’s next.
Trillions of gallons of fresh water has been pouring out for 74 consecutive days. The decision to start closing bays at the spillway is welcomed news.
“It certainly is the beginning of the end of this current event,” said Dr. Monty Graham with the USM Research Center at the Port of Gulfport.
Dr. Graham is part of a task force studying the impact of the opening, and he and his fellow scientists will now start measuring the recovery effort. Several factors are at play.
“For the duration of this year, as long as that wind is blowing from the south and southwest, this water coming from the Bonnet Carre will tend to stay up inside the Mississippi Sound,” Dr. Graham said.
The fresh water has all but destroyed oyster reefs, dropped salinity levels and put the brakes on this year’s shrimp season. USM is working with the state and the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) to study the domino effect of the spillway opening.
“DMR is starting to transition into looking at those economic impacts. It’s going beyond just the fishing and reduction of stocks and lost of catch. How that translates into shrimp processing and then even further downstream, confidence in the seafood coming out of the Gulf,” Graham explained.
The hope is that a serious debate over the issue will come out of the disastrous results.
“This has started a conversation, and the fact that this has gotten out in the public nationally drew a lot of attention to the issue,” Dr. Graham said.
The Army Corps of Engineers expects a full closure within the week. But even after it is closed, the Corps says there will be a significant amount of water left in the spillway basin that has to drain.