The Role of Long-term Monitoring In Understanding Phosphate Spills Into A National Estuarine Research Reserve

Author(s): Cressman, K.; Woodrey, M.; Ruple, D.

Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (GBNERR) is an 18,400-acre protected area in southeastern Jackson County, MS. The GBNERR, along with 27 other Reserves, collects long-term environmental data, including water quality, weather and nutrient parameters, following accepted national protocols as part of a System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP). In 2005, a phosphate facility on GBNERR’s western border released wastewater into Bangs Lake. Data from SWMP were used to help determine the timing and duration of the event. The pH measured by a data logger deployed at the Bangs Lake water quality station dropped to 3.7. Orthophosphate, tested monthly in the water column and usually below the detection limit of 0.01 mg/L, spiked to over 4 mg/L: more than 400 times higher than normal. PO4 concentrations returned to baseline levels after Hurricane Katrina and remained below 0.01 mg/L until September 2012, when Hurricane Isaac led to another release into Bangs Lake. Routine nutrient sampling three weeks after Isaac found phosphate levels over 1 mg/L in Bangs Lake. Phosphate was also high at further distances from the plant. As of December 2013, other stations’ water column phosphate concentrations had returned to normal, but phosphate in Bangs Lake remained higher than historical levels. Research by collaborators at nearby institutions has helped fill in details of the magnitude and spatial patterns of the 2012 spill. This work, combined with the long-term context of SWMP data, led to the formation of a Phosphate Working Group, which will continue to explore the ecological effects of this long-term addition of phosphorus to Bangs Lake.

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