The Big Sunflower River was a popular getaway for Mississippi residents who used to swim and fish in the water, but high levels of pollution put it off limits. Now, help is on the way. The Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club has entered into a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that requires the EPA to establish pollution limits for 702 segments of Mississippi waterways that are not fishable or swimmable.
"This is a great victory. The era of uncontrolled pollution in Mississippi's lakes and rivers is over," said Louie Miller, a member of the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club. "Our state lawmakers are also taking water pollution seriously by providing the Department of Environmental Quality with the resources it needs to work with the EPA in setting water pollution limits," said Miller.
The consent decree orders the EPA to set pollution limits within five years for 470 polluted water segments, including pollution limits within three years for 30 water bodies that have significant pollution levels or special environmental values. Pollution limits will be set for the remaining 232 water segments within ten years following the consent decree order. The limits, known as total maximum daily loads ("TMDLs"), identify how much of a pollutant that a water body can handle from all sources on a daily basis. The consent decree opens the door to controlling what can go into waterways from storm water run off to industrial facilities and sewage plants.
"Our lawsuit is based on a twenty year-old law in the Clean Water Act that was ignored by the EPA until recently," said Eric Huber, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which represents the Sierra Club Mississippi Chapter. "A lot of time has passed and a lot of pollution has gone into these waters. It was important to us that the EPA take action to clean up most of Mississippi's waters in a five year period," Huber said.
"These environmental lawsuits have spurred the Gulf States to take the lead nationally in reducing water pollution," said Alex Levinson, Environmental Law Program Director for the Sierra Club. The consent decree in Mississippi is the third in an emerging pattern in Gulf Coast states, where federal courts have also ordered TMDLs in Alabama and Georgia.