- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Flowing 8 miles from the state line between Louisiana and Mississippi to the Mississippi River north of Baton Rouge, Tunica Bayou has a problem.

Although it meets federal water quality criteria for boating, fishing, and wildlife and fishery habitat, it doesn’t meet the criteria for swimming because of failing septic systems.

A plan to help remedy the situation is outlined in a draft report from the state Department of Environmental Quality that’s open for public comment until Aug. 16.

It’s the first waterway to get action under a new policy released last year under the Clean Water Act that allows the state to avoid a lengthy reporting process - the total maximum daily load report - and take more immediate action on improving water quality, said Chuck Berger, a DEQ engineer.

“It’s really a way to address it (water problems) more efficiently,” Berger said, and get the waterway removed from the list of impaired waterways.

The total maximum daily load report outlines the maximum amount of a particular pollution that the water body can have and still meet water standards. The limits on pollution can affect what other water discharge permits are issued in the area.

State officials developed a priority list of waterways that have problems but don’t have a total maximum daily load report. Officials also are looking for restoration possibilities in each watershed and searching for any organizations already working along the waterway who could become partners.

Survey and water monitoring have begun on Tunica Bayou to help target where the problems originate. Of the 198 homes in the watershed, it’s estimated that 18 have failing septic systems, which can dramatically increase the amount of fecal coliform that gets into the bayou. In addition, several nonresidential facilities were found to have no discharge permit, and at least one other with a permit was found to have a failing system.

Three facilities have a permit to discharge in the watershed, but two of them are not contributing to the bayou’s problems - Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola discharges to the Mississippi River, and a school in the area has been closed.

The third permitted facility, the Tunica Post Office, has a system that isn’t equipped to disinfect and needs to be pumped out to be serviced, DEQ reported. The post office has been referred to enforcement, Berger said, a slightly different policy for DEQ, which usually gives chances to those not in compliance before enforcement is involved.

In this case, Berger said, the post office was referred because there is a special emphasis on this priority waterway.

The plan to fix the problems says DEQ will work with the state Department of Health, property owners and others to get septic systems fixed and get any unpermitted system in compliance.

By getting these systems back in working condition, the hope is that it will result in the 64 percent decrease in pollution needed to meet the swimming standard. If it doesn’t, DEQ staff will continue to investigate other potential sources that can be reduced, Berger said.

After the comment period is over, any necessary changes to the plan will be made and then it will be sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for final approval, he said.

The second priority on the list, Bayou Sara, is also in the St. Francisville area and will be the subject of a public meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 28 at the West Feliciana Parish Courthouse, 4789 Prosperity St., St. Francisville. DEQ staff will answer questions during the meeting.

The meeting will give people a chance to offer suggestions before the remediation plan is developed instead of just commenting after the work is done, Berger said. The problem with Bayou Sara is fecal coliform as well and will be a little more involved than Tunica Bayou because there are more homes and other facilities to consider.

Although the priority list of waterways already has been approved by EPA, the state does have a chance once a year to add to the list. Suggestions are taken, provided they’re made far enough in advance of the May window for the state to do the necessary evaluation, Berger said.


Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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