Buttahatchee River Water Quality Restoration

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Resource Concern:
The Buttahatchee River is a major waterbody in the Tombigbee River Basin. From its headwaters in Winston and Marion counties in Alabama, the river flows southwesterly approximately 59 miles to the Mississippi state line. It then continues another 35 miles to its confluence with the Tombigbee River at the boundary of Lowndes and Clay counties in Mississippi (Figure 1). The Buttahatchee River watershed covers approximately 77,581 acres and is composed of approximately 7 percent cropland, 14 percent pastureland and 79 percent timberland.
In the mid-1990s, monitoring data showed exceedances of the state’s bacteria water quality standard. The seasonally adjusted standard requires that from May to October, when water contact recreation activities are expected to occur, the maximum allowable level of FC bacteria concentration may not exceed a geometric mean of 200 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters (mL) of water; plus, no more than 10 percent of the samples examined during any month may exceed 400 CFU/100 mL. From November to April, when water contact recreation activities are not expected to occur, the maximum allowable level of FC bacteria concentration may not exceed a geometric mean of 2,000 CFU/100 mL, and no more than 10 percent of the samples examined during any month may exceed 4,000 CFU/100 mL. Because 1990s data showed water quality exceedances, MDEQ added a 29-milelong segment (MS 019M) of the Buttahatchee River to Mississippi’s 1998 CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters as only partially supporting its secondary contact recreation designated use due to impairment caused by FC bacteria.

Solution:
In 1999 MDEQ’s Water Quality Division developed a total maximum daily load (TMDL) to bring Buttahatchee River segment MS 019M into compliance with state bacteria water quality standards. Using low-altitude photography, the state identified failing septic tanks and animals in the streams as likely sources of FC bacteria loading into the Buttahatchee River. On the basis of this information, the TMDL established goals of reducing FC bacteria loading from failing septic tanks and cattle in streams by 50 percent and 85 percent, respectively.

Benefit:
Watershed restoration efforts reduced the FC bacteria loads entering the Buttahatchee River. Based on post-BMP implementation water quality monitoring data (collected between 2007 and 2010), bacteria levels now meet Mississippi’s water quality standards (Figure 3). In addition, EPA pollutant reduction models run after 2007 indicated that installed BMPs had reduced sediment loading into Buttahatchee River segment MS 019M by 19,462 tons. On the basis of these data, MDEQ has determined that segment MS 019M now meets water quality standards to support the secondary contact recreation designated use and therefore has removed the 29-mile segment from the state’s list of impaired waters (in 2012).

Partners and Funding Support for this project came from $178,077 in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency CWA section 319 funds and $122,784 in matching funds from the partnering agencies. Partners include MDEQ, Mississippi Soil and Water Conservation Commission, NRCS, and the Lowndes and Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation Districts.