State of the Beach/State Reports/MS/Water Quality

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Mississippi Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access65
Water Quality83
Beach Erosion9-
Erosion Response-3
Beach Fill2-
Shoreline Structures2 5
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas1NA
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}

Water Quality Monitoring Program

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) signed into law on October 10, 2000, amends the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), incorporating provisions intended to reduce the risk of illness to users of the Nation's recreational waters. The BEACH Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award program development and implementation grants to eligible States, Territories, Tribes, and local governments to support microbiological testing and monitoring of coastal recreation waters, including the Great Lakes, that are adjacent to beaches or similar points of access used by the public. BEACH Act grants also provide support for development and implementation of programs to notify the public of the potential exposure to disease-causing microorganisms in coastal recreation waters. EPA encourages coastal States and Territories to apply for BEACH Act Grants for Program Implementation (referred to as Implementation Grants) to implement effective and comprehensive coastal recreation water monitoring and public notification programs. CWA section 406(i) authorizes appropriations of up to $30 million per year to develop and implement beach programs. Unfortunately, only about one-third that amount has been authorized each year since the program's inception. In recent years, the total funding available for BEACH Act grants has been about $9.5 million. Funding beyond 2012 has been in jeopardy, since EPA's budget requests for this program in FY2013 and FY2014 were ZERO (money for testing in 2013 and 2014 was ultimately allocated as part of Continuing Resolutions to resolve the Federal Budget impasse) and there was also no money for beach testing in the FY2015 budget. Again, it was restored at the last minute as part of a Continuing Resolution. It is very discouraging to have to fight for this basic funding to protect the public's health at the beach every year. Thankfully, there is a growing movement to provide stable funding. Unfortunately, in 2017 the situation is even more dire. If available, funds are allocated to the states and territories based on a formula which uses three factors that are readily available and verifiable: (1) Length of beach season, (2) miles of beach and (3) number of people that use the beaches. Mississippi was eligible for a $247,000 grant in fiscal year 2016.

Mississippi’s Beach Monitoring Program was the subject of a presentation by Emily Cotton of MDEQ on February 25, 2010.

Much of the following discussion is taken from National Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) report Testing the Waters, A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, June 2014. NRDC's report evaluates beach monitoring data relative to EPA's recommended Beach Action Value (BAV). The BAV is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions."

NRDC ranked Mississippi 28th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states). 21% of samples exceeded EPA's new BAV standards for designated beach areas in 2013.

Mississippi has beaches stretching along 43 miles of the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) conducts the state's beach water quality monitoring program in conjunction with the State Beach Monitoring Task Force. Beachgoers can learn about beach closings and advisories on the MDEQ website.


Sampling Practices

Mississippi's beaches are monitored weekly, year-round. The MDEQ determines sampling practices, locations, standards, and notification protocols and practices throughout the state. Samples are taken in the middle of the water column at wading depth (approximately 0.5 meter).

Once a beach is placed under an advisory, the monitoring frequency is increased until two consecutive samples meet standards; the beach is then reopened. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and lower total closing/advisory days than they would if their sampling schedule did not increase after an exceedance was found.

Other Monitoring Programs

National Ocean Service/National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) has carried out many water quality research projects in Mississippi.


Standards and Procedures

In Mississippi, notifications issued because of bacterial exceedances or anticipated bacterial exceedances caused by rainfall are called advisories; all other notifications are generally called closings. A closure is issued for a section of a beach when there is a known source of pollution that poses a risk to human health, for example, if a sewage line breaks and causes bacteria levels to exceed state standards. The signage at the beach is different for advisories and closures.

To issue contamination advisories and closures, Mississippi applies an enterococcus statistical threshold value of 104 cfu/100 ml. No geometric mean standard is applied when determining whether a beachwater sample exceeds bacterial standards.When a sample indicates an exceedance, a resample is required. When two consecutive samples indicate exceedances, Mississippi issues an advisory. After a beach is under advisory or a closure, it is not reopened until two consecutive samples meet standards. Advisories are posted on the MDEQ website, Facebook, and Twitter. Additionally, press releases are sent to the media when an advisory is issued.

In addition to bacteria samples, MDEQ collects monthly nutrient and chlorophyll data. This additional information is not used to inform decisions about beach advisories or closings, but it is used along with the bacteria data to assess the quality of waters along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Mississippi has a standing preemptive rainfall advisory that warns against swimming at beaches for 24 hours following significant rainfall (characterized by noticeable runoff). Bathers are particularly advised to avoid swimming near storm drains, which are present at nearly all of Mississippi's Gulf Coast beaches. This type of standing advisory is not included in the closing and advisory data reported to the EPA and is not included in this report. Beaches are preemptively closed if there is a known sewage spill or when events such as hurricanes or beach recovery projects make conditions unsafe for swimming. These types of advisories are reported to the EPA and included in NRDC data.

Water Quality Contact

Emily Cotton
Beach Monitoring Coordinator
Tel. (228) 432-1056 ext. 112

Daryl Cook
Department of Environmental Quality

Beach Closures

The Mississippi Beach Monitoring Program website has beach monitoring data for each monitoring station from 2000 to present and also has the beach advisory/closure history for the same period.

NRDC reported:

In 2013, Mississippi reported 22 coastal beaches. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 21% exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 60 enterococcus bacteria colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml marine or estuarine water in a single sample. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in Mississippi in 2013 were Gulfport Central Beach in Harrison County (35%), Bay St. Louis Beach in Hancock County (32%), East Courthouse Road in Harrison County (31%), Biloxi Porter Ave. Beach in Harrison County (29%), and Long Beach in Harrison County (29%).

For a bar chart showing a 5-year water quality trend, see NRDC's report.

In June 2013, U.S. EPA released its latest data about beach closings and advisories for the 2012 swimming season. Note that for some states the data is incomplete, making state-to-state or year-to-year comparisons difficult. Here's EPA's BEACH Report for Mississippi's 2012 Swimming Season. EPA no longer publishes this report.

Storm Drains and Sewage Outfalls

The following (slightly edited) text is from NOAA's April 2010 evaluation of the Coastal Management Program:

The Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program (CNPCP), or §6217 of the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments (CZARA), is jointly administered by NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Two of the CNPCP’s key purposes are to strengthen the links between federal and state coastal zone management and water quality programs, and to enhance state and local efforts to manage land use activities that degrade coastal waters. NOAA and EPA must approve each state’s coastal nonpoint program.

Mississippi’s CNPCP has been conditionally approved since 1997 and has met most program requirements. The MSCP formally submitted a response to questions from OCRM in October 2005 and provided a legal opinion for review. Since NOAA's latest evaluation site visit, OCRM has completed a review of MDEQ’s legal opinion and found it acceptable.

At the beginning of NOAA's 2005-2009 evaluation period, the MSCP was focused on promoting the Alabama-Mississippi Clean Marina Program administered by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, and three marinas achieved the Clean Marina designation. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina destroyed or severely damaged marinas along the Mississippi coast and the Clean Marina program manager left, placing the program on hold. At the time of the site visit, the Clean Marina Program was beginning to be revitalized and DMR’s involvement in Clean Marina activities is now through the Coastal Management and Planning Office. After Hurricane Katrina, the MSCP focused on providing seed funding for wastewater facility expansion planning in order to eliminate individual septic systems, a primary source of nonpoint pollution within Mississippi’s coastal zone. At the time of the site visit, the MSCP was providing seed funding to support a project to bring sewer to residents in Hancock County.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality's Nonpoint Source Program's mission is to:

"...conserve and improve State waters, for man’s use and the sustainment and propagation of wildlife and aquatic life, through focused research, responsible regulation, widespread education, and cooperation with other agencies and the public."

DEQ states that:

"Nonpoint source pollution--or polluted runoff--is the leading cause of water quality problems in Mississippi."

DEQ's 2009 NPS Report is available on their website.

Model Stormwater Ordinances were provided to each coastal entity through the DMR Coastal Stormwater Management Toolbox in 2003. Each NPDES Phase II regulated local government on the coast was required to have comprehensive stormwater management ordinances adopted by the end of 2006. As of July 2006, Jackson County and the cities within Jackson County had adopted such ordinances.

Typical impediments to adopting and enacting model stormwater ordinances lie with conflicts that often arise in areas experiencing intense development pressures. The desire to grow communities and expand tax bases often conflicts with sound decision making specific to the environmental health of a city, county or region. In addition, few if any of the coastal entities have developed and implemented a sustainable development or smart growth master plan that would assist in providing a balance between competing interests.

USGS' Mississippi Water Science Center provides access to water resources and water quality information.

Wastewater and Stormwater Discharge Locations and Information

The Gulf Region Water and Wastewater Plan has digital maps showing the location of facilities that discharge stormwater, industrial wastewater and municipal wastewater in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.

In October 2012 the USEPA reported that the city of Jackson released more than 2.8 billion gallons of minimally treated sewage into the Pearl River system over the previous four years. The Pearl River flows into the Gulf of Mexico near the Mississippi/Louisiana border. Analysis of reports filed with the state Department of Environmental Quality indicates that Jackson bypassed treatment at its Savannah Street Wastewater Treatment Plant about one day in eight. The Jackson City Council is expected to approve an agreement to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on sewer system upgrades and to pay the EPA a fine for violating the Clean Water Act.

Septic/Onsite Wastewater Systems

Many homes in Mississippi rely on septic systems and other types of individual onsite disposal systems (IOWDS) to process their wastewater. These systems can sometimes cause polluted runoff if improperly installed or maintained. The Mississippi Department of Health has primary responsibility over onsite wastewater treatment systems in the State. These home wastewater treatment systems filter waste through the soil. When septic systems are improperly maintained, or built in areas where soil will not absorb the wastewater or filter out its impurities, sewage may enter streams and lakes. Untreated waste can emerge at the surface and then be washed into our streams and lakes by rainfall. Waste can also seep into and contaminate groundwater. For more information about wastewater treatment systems (septic tanks), click here to learn "What happens after the flush."

The following additional information is from Mississippi's 2006-2010 Assessment and Strategy:

"During the 2005 regular session of the Mississippi Legislature, the Governor signed into law House Bill 287, which attempts to clarify roles and responsibilities relative to on-site wastewater disposal systems. Under House Bill 287, the State Board of Health has the responsibility for adopting regulations relative to the approval, installation, maintenance and repair of individual on-site wastewater systems (septic systems). Concurrently, State Department of Health regulations require that any person wishing to install a septic system to file a notice of intent with the local County Health office in the county in which the system will be installed. The regulations also require that the County Environmental Health Officer conduct a suitability analysis to determine suitable specifications for the parcel in question. The law also requires that installers of septic systems obtain licensure through the Department of Health. However, the law does not require approval of the design, construction or installation of the system unless specifically requested by the property owner. House Bill 287 also allows for individual counties to adopt local ordinances that are more restrictive than state law.
Recent legislative and regulatory trends would suggest that the Department of Health is being provided with increasing responsibility and authority with respect to regulation of individual, on-site, waste treatment systems.
Impediments to progress and success with the management of on-site disposal systems lie primarily through the fact that the regulatory agencies (both DEQ and MDPH) and limited in funding and personnel resources to adequately inspect and enforce provisions of the program. This particular impediment could be alleviated through the development of local on-site wastewater ordinances that require final inspection and certification of on-site systems prior to issuance of a certificate of occupancy."

Water Quality Contact (Runoff and Outfalls)

Here is a link to MDEQ NPS staff contacts.

Perception of Causes

Mississippi's 2006-2010 Coastal Assessment and Strategy noted:

"Pollution from non-point sources has been determined to be the cause of 75% of water quality impairment. In coastal Mississippi, swimming and seafood consumption advisories are often issued as a result of non-point source pollution, especially noted after a storm event. Over the past few years, the level of awareness regarding stormwater runoff management has increased due in large part to the EPA Stormwater Phase II Program and the Section 6217 Non-point Pollution Program. Pollution can impair the natural ecological balance in a wetland ecosystem and can potentially alter the flora and fauna. The impediments to pollution reduction are development pressures, lack of best management practices or incorrect use and installation of best management practices on construction jobs, lack of public awareness, lack of political support, lack of strict sustainable development, smart growth, and stormwater runoff ordinances, and lack of strict zoning and regulations."

Public Education

The Mississippi Beach Monitoring Program website has an EPA brochure Beachgoer's Guide: "Before you Go to the Beach" and a Frequently Asked Questions section.

Pollution on the website of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources provides information on:

  • Beach Pollution: How Big Is the Problem?
  • The Primary Causes of Beach Pollution
  • What Are Common Contaminants of Beach Water?
  • Monitoring and What You Can Do to Prevent Beach Pollution
  • Quick Facts

Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has information on Steps to help control NPS pollution.

The Department of Marine Resource’s CRMP carries out a variety of public education and outreach programs designed to address a multitude of coastal issues. DMR provides public education programs directed towards litter prevention and responsible resource use. One of the primary venues that DMR uses to get the message out is the Coastal Development Strategies Conference. This conference is held annually and is strategically planned to address the most pressing and relevant issues facing the Mississippi Gulf Coast Region. In addition to these efforts, DMR is a proponent of sound management practices related to stormwater quality. DMR developed the Coastal Stormwater Management Toolbox, which contains a series of best management practices (BMPs) designed to ensure that water quality remains at the forefront of regional discussions and strategies. DMR continues to serve as the lead agency for the Mississippi Marine Debris Task Force, which organizes the annual Mississippi Coastal Cleanup. 309 Funds were used to provide education and outreach programs specific to the Clean Marina program components.

Several Educator's Guides have been produced by COSEE SE, various Sea Grant organizations and others.

General Reference Documents

EPA has compiled several NPS (Nonpoint Source) Outreach Products that are a selection of television, radio, and print products on nonpoint source pollution that have been developed by various agencies and organizations around the country. They are good examples of outreach in the mass media. Also see What You Can Do.

NOAA, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, International City/County Management Association and Rhode Island Sea Grant, has released an interagency guide that adapts smart growth principles to the unique needs of coastal and waterfront communities. Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities builds on existing smart growth principles to offer 10 coastal and waterfront-specific guidelines that help manage development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality of life issues.

State of the Beach Report: Mississippi
Mississippi Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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