Planning the future with an eye to the past: Land Use and Water Quality on the Mississippi-Alabama coast

Author(s): Carmichael, R.; Darrow, E.; Wu, W.; Huang, H.; Calci, W.; Burkhardt, W.; Walton, W.; Pasch, A.; Woodrey, M.

We conducted a 4-year study to measure land-use related nutrient source and pathogen indicator changes through time using Grand Bay, on the Mississippi-Alabama coast, as a benchmark system. The study determined how land use changes in the past have affected water quality, natural resources, and potentially human health to provide data for local land use planning and decision-making. Data showed that historical and present-day land use, particularly increased wastewater and stormwater inputs to coastal areas, has affected water quality and potential for shellfish harvest. Of the five sites tested in the Grand Bay area, Bayou Chico in Mississippi was identified as having particularly poor water quality. Wastewater treatment was demonstrated as a method to reduce water quality impairment throughout the area. On August 1, more than 40 researchers, managers and members of the public met for a one-day workshop at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve to discuss these findings and recommend data products to guide water quality improvements on the Mississippi-Alabama coast. Stakeholders identified two products as potentially most useful to promote water quality protection: a quantitative tool to predict how future land use change will affect water quality (nutrients and pathogens) and educational materials to raise awareness among local citizen groups, from eco-tourists to municipal officials. While full implementation of these products will take time, this workshop demonstrated that communication with stakeholders was useful to guide application of scientific data. To sustain water quality and shellfisheries safe for harvest, communities will need to balance land use, particularly area of impervious surface, with suitably designed wastewater treatment alternatives (e.g.; for runoff or combined sewage overflows) and water quality outcomes appropriate for natural resource and public health protection.

Go back


Past Conference Archive