Bottled Up Tensions

Natural resource disaster

The Army Corps of Engineers may face the harsh repercussions associated with opening the Bonnet Carré Spillway and subsequently causing the direct and indirect injury and death of a significant portion of the area’s bottlenose dolphin population.  The spillway was opened in 2019 for a record 120 days.  Over this extended period, as polluted fresh water from the Mississippi River traveled into the Mississippi Sound saltwater, the impact of the flooding proved detrimental.  Many of the dolphins that did survive suffered from skin lesions.

The lawsuit was filed in January in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.  The specific agencies that have taken a stance against the Army Corps of Engineers include Harrison County, the three cities of Biloxi, D’Iberville, and Pass Christian, the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, and Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United.  The basis of the lawsuit’s argument stems from the Army Corps of Engineers’ failure to seek permission from the U.S. Department of Commerce.  According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, if federal agencies intend to perform actions that may provoke a deterioration of marine animals or alter their environments, the U.S. Department of Commerce must approve a permit.

The spillway was opened from February 27, 2019 until April 11, 2019, and again from the middle of May through July 2019.  During the time that the fresh water entered the Mississippi Sound, the saltwater lowered to levels that negatively affected the bottlenose dolphins, which live and thrive in saltwater.  In addition to skin lesions and death, the dolphins also suffered from abnormal blood chemistry and secondary infections.  The length of time that the dolphins were exposed to the lower salt content was a determining factor in the overall impact.  While the Army Corps of Engineers’ actions affected marine life, the lawsuit alleges that the Mississippi Gulf Coast natural resources, communities, and businesses were also altered.