State Summary: Mississippi

Ranked 19th in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states)
8% of samples exceeded national standards for designated beach areas in 2012

Protecting swimmers from bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants in beachwater requires leadership. Federal officials must help clean up polluted stormwater runoff—the most commonly identified cause of beach closings and swimming advisories—by developing national rules that require pollution sources to prevent stormwater where it starts by retaining it on-site.

The Environmental Protection Agency must also set beachwater quality standards protective of human health and provide states with the support they need to monitor beach pollution and notify the public when pollution levels are high.

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Mississippi 2012 Beachwater Quality Summary

Reported Sources of Beachwater Contamination
(number of closing/advisory days)

  • 347 (55%) unspecified sources associated with Hurricane Isaac
  • 100 (15%) stormwater runoff
  • 87 (13%) unknown contamination sources
  • 56 (9%) sewage spills/leaks
  • 48 (7%) other, unspecified contamination sources

Mississippi has 22 beaches stretching along 43 miles of Gulf of Mexico waters. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) conducts the state's beachwater quality monitoring program in conjunction with the State Beach Monitoring Task Force.

Mississippi Water Quality Challenges

Lingering Impacts of BP Oil Disaster

Mississippi's beaches were affected by the BP oil disaster, which began on April 20, 2010, with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Oil flowed from the damaged well for nearly three months until it was capped on July 15. Three years after the disaster, Mississippi beaches are open to the public, but the MDEQ cautions beachgoers that tar balls or tar mats might continue to appear on beaches. The public is advised to use common sense and take precautions if tar balls are present—including avoiding contact with them on the beach and refraining from swimming if tar balls are seen in the water.

Extreme Weather

In 2012, the Mississippi Gulf Coast had extremely volatile weather, which affected water quality. Overall it was an uncommonly wet year. Additionally, strong winds out of the south-southeast stirred up the bottom of the water off the coast, which resuspended sediments, caused bacteria counts to exceed the state standard, and triggered advisories. In the fall, all Mississippi beaches were closed for 1 to 2 months following Hurricane Isaac until debris removal was completed and counties had finished repairs and restoration work on beaches.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?

In 2012, Mississippi reported 22 coastal beaches, all of which were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week. In 2012, 8% of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded the state's daily maximum bacterial standard of 104 colonies/100 ml. The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the state standard in 2012 were Bay St. Louis Beach in Hancock County (22%), and Courthouse Road Beach (18%), Pass Christian West Beach (14%), Gulfport West Beach (13%), Gulfport Central Beach (11%), Gulfport East Beach (11%), and Pass Christian East Beach (11%), all in Harrison County.

Harrison County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (9%), followed by Hancock County (8%) and Jackson County (5%). NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

What Does Beachwater Monitoring Show?1

In 2012, Mississippi reported 22 coastal beaches, all of which were assigned a monitoring frequency of once a week. In 2012, 8% of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded the state's daily maximum bacterial standard of 104 colonies/100 ml. The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the state standard in 2012 were Bay St. Louis Beach in Hancock County (22%), and Courthouse Road Beach (18%), Pass Christian West Beach (14%), Gulfport West Beach (13%), Gulfport Central Beach (11%), Gulfport East Beach (11%), and Pass Christian East Beach (11%), all in Harrison County.

Harrison County had the highest exceedance rate of the daily maximum standard in 2012 (9%), followed by Hancock County (8%) and Jackson County (5%). NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

Mississippi Percent of Samples Exceeding the State's Daily Maximum Bacterial Standard for 20 Beaches Reported 2008-2012*

    * Please note that only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2008-2012 are included in the bar chart.

    What Are Mississippi's 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.

    How Many Beach Closings and Advisories Were Issued in 2012?2

    Total closing/advisory days for 42 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less increased sevenfold to 648 days in 2012 from 91 days in 2011. This dramatic increase was due in large part to Hurricane Issac, which caused some Mississippi beaches to close for 1 to 2 months for debris removal and repairs.

    For prior years, there were 88 closing/advisory days in 2010, 331 days in 2009, and 187 days in 2008. In addition, there were 3 extended events (187 days total) and 1 permanent event (128 days) in 2012. Extended events are those in effect more than six weeks but not more than 13 consecutive weeks; permanent events are in effect for more than 13 consecutive weeks. For the 42 events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, 98% (634) of closing/advisory days were due to monitoring that revealed elevated bacteria levels, and 2% (14) were preemptive to due known sewage spills or leaks.

    How Does Mississippi Determine When to Warn Visitors About Swimming?

    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.

    Mississippi 2012 Monitoring Results and Closing/Advisory Days3

    County
    Beach
    Tier
    Assigned Monitoring Frequency
    Total Samples
    % of samples exceeding
    state standards
    Closing or Advisory days
    View
      NOTE: Data and state-specific information for this summary were collected from U.S. EPA, direct conversations with beach managers in the state, state grant reports to U.S. EPA for BEACH Act funding, and the state water quality website. The information in this state summary reflects current data as of June 7, 2013.
    1. If the 2012 percent exceedance values in this summary don't match, why not? The value at the top of the page reflects the proportion of samples exceeding the national single-sample maximum standard for designated beach areas. The values in the "What Does Beach Monitoring Show?" section reflect the proportion of samples exceeding the state standard, which in some states is more or less stringent than the national designated beach standard. Additionally, only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2008-2012 are included in the bar chart. Because some beaches were not monitored in each of those years, the percent exceedance for this subset of beaches may not have the same value as the percent exceedance for all of the beaches monitored in 2012.
    2. Year-to-year changes in closing/advisory days should not necessarily be interpreted as an indication of the level of bacterial contamination. In some states and localities, the number of beaches and/or beach monitoring frequency may not be consistent from one year to the next, and beaches may be closed or under a swimming advisory for reasons other than known or suspected bacterial contamination. Other reasons include, but are not limited to, chemical/oil spills, medical waste washing up on shore, dangerous currents, lack of lifeguards, etc. In addition, because NRDC's totals of closing/advisory events focus on those events lasting six consecutive weeks or less, those tallies do not account for longer-duration closings or advisories. For trends in water quality, please refer to NRDC's year-to-year comparison of percent exceedance rates of state water quality standards.
    3. Reported closing or advisory days are for events lasting six consecutive weeks or less. Days in parentheses are for events lasting more than six consecutive weeks.

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