Bonnet Carre Spillway closure delayed another week due to Barry, but toxins not as strong

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The Bonnet Carre Spillway could be closed within a week, said marine officials on Tuesday, but the impacts could last for months.

The Commission on Marine Resources met Tuesday morning to discuss how Hurricane Barry, which hit Louisiana over the weekend, affected the spillway and the freshwater intrusion.

According to Commission Executive Director Joe Spraggins, the Army Corps of Engineers is reporting that the closure of the spillway could be delayed five to seven days from the original date. The spillway was initially set to close later this week. “So now we’re talking about another week at least before they’ll be able to close the Bonnet Carre due to the rain that came in with Tropical Storm Barry," said Spraggins.

CMR: Spillway closure delayed another week due to Barry, but toxins not as strong
CMR: Spillway closure delayed another week due to Barry, but toxins not as strong (Source: Photo WLOX)

That means it will take a week to close the gates and another week for the water to stop flowing. With that timeline in mind, it could be mid-August before the intrusion of freshwater into the Mississippi Sound ceases.

“It is a freshwater algae and once it dies it will start sinking to the bottom. The problem is it will start sucking the oxygen out," Spraggins said. "It does suck the oxygen out now as it lives but it will suck more as it goes under which could cause us to have a low oxygen level and that could cause a fish kill. That would be in the area of the shoreline.”

CMR: Spillway closure delayed another week due to Barry, but toxins not as strong
CMR: Spillway closure delayed another week due to Barry, but toxins not as strong (Source: Photo WLOX)

Crab and shrimp populations are still being studied. One staggering fact Spraggins reported at the meeting are the June numbers of shrimp harvesting. Usually, shrimpers see around 2 million pounds each June; this year, there were only 500,000 pounds of shrimp reported.

However, Spraggins said while all testing stations along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are still showing signs of algae, it’s not as colorful and doesn’t seem to have toxins as strong as have been seen recently along the coast.

That change came about because even though there are still toxins present in the water due to the algae, the levels are significantly lower. In fact, Spraggins said that the toxin levels aren’t even registering on tests performed on seafood. “We have done tests on the seafood, and the seafood that we asked for toxin tests, no toxin tests have come back saying that it even warrants a toxin test on the seafood, the level is not high enough for that," said Spraggins. "So, the indications that we are getting, 100 percent, is that the seafood is safe to eat.”

The lower toxins are also causing the CMR to consider a different type of warning than before. Instead of announcing a beach closure on MDEQ's monitoring website, the page now has a water contact warning in effect.

A new banner on MDEQ's beach monitoring website says a water advisory is in effect. It previously referred to it as a beach advisory.
A new banner on MDEQ's beach monitoring website says a water advisory is in effect. It previously referred to it as a beach advisory. (Source: MDEQ website)

The water contact warning still advises people and their pets to avoid water contact, such as swimming or wading, due to the blue-green harmful algal bloom. However, there are no beach advisories in place because the sand can still be enjoyed.

Marine officials do advise that if you see any blue-green algae washed up on the sand, that you do not touch it and immediately alert MDEQ or any Emergency Management Agency office.

MDEQ will continue to test the water every day at each beach monitoring station. Once there is a two to three day period where no algae is found, they will continue to test for toxins. Once another two to three days goes by where no toxins are found, then all the water contact advisories will be canceled. However, it could be as late as October before that happens, said Spraggins.

See WLOX article . . .