Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2015MS201B

Water Quality in Bangs Lake: effects of recurrent phosphate spills to a coastal estuary: Year 2

Institute: Mississippi
Year Established: 2015 Start Date: 2015-03-01 End Date: 2016-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $21,964 Total Non-Federal Funds: $51,012

Principal Investigators: Kevin Dillon

Abstract: Two large phosphate spills have occurred from Mississippi Phosphate Corporation (a fertilizer production facility) to the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve’s (GBNERR) Bangs Lake since 2005. Following these spills, phosphate concentrations in Bangs Lake surface waters rose from near zero to extremely high concentrations (as high as 7mg L-1 or 225 M) and pH dropped dramatically from an average of ~7.5 to near 3.7. Less dramatic changes in phosphate concentrations and pH were measured at other regularly sampled stations nearby, and large fish kills also occurred throughout the Reserve. Further, there is some evidence of potential continuous input of phosphate to Bangs Lake from smaller ongoing spills or dry deposition. These events and the obvious biological impacts to the waters of a protected NERR warrant further investigation. The GBNERR has assembled a Phosphate Working Group (PWG) to investigate scientific questions related to these anthropogenic phosphate loadings. This working group includes members from the GBNERR, regional universities and marine labs (University of Southern Mississippi/ Gulf Coast Research Lab, University of West Florida, and Dauphin Island Sea Lab/ University of South Alabama), and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) who are currently conducting MWRRI funded research that assesses the water quality impacts of repeated phosphate spills on an otherwise relatively undisturbed estuarine ecosystem. With a second year of funding we will refine and build on our Year-1 research on the fate and effects of phosphorus loading to this estuary with additional targeted sampling and using multiple indicators of contamination. This project will train six undergraduate students to collect and analyze water, sediment, and dry deposited particulates for phosphate concentrations in coastal ecosystems. These students will also measure chlorophyll a and determine the potential for sedimentary phosphate sequestration in the affected area. A graduate student from the University of West Florida with experience in nutrient analysis will be trained to coordinate and oversee much of the fieldwork conducted by the summer interns. In Year-2 we will refine and expand on our Year-1 research in three ways, including addition of: 1) an artificial tracer (fluorescein) study to directly visualize and track water movement in Bangs Lake to define likely areas of phosphate accumulation, 2) Iron and trace element analyses to spatially and temporally trace phosphate spills through detection of the chemical signature of other contaminants in spill materials, and 3) continuation of work from Year-1 at new sampling stations chosen based on outcomes of the tracer study and results of Year-1 to better define locations of effects. Ongoing work continued from Year-1 will include sampling of sediment grain size, organic carbon and nitrogen content, phytoplankton and benthic microalgae concentrations, porewater and water column nutrient analyses, which will be needed to support the newly proposed analyses and integrate the results of Year-2 with Year-1 data.