BILLING CODE: XXXX-XX
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE
Long Beach Watershed, Harrison County, Mississippi
AGENCY: Natural Resources Conservation Service
ACTION: Notice of Intent to Prepare a Supplemental Watershed Plan and Environmental Impact Statement
SUMMARY: Pursuant to section 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Council on Environmental Quality Guidelines (40 CFR Part 1500) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service Guidelines (7 CFR Part 650); the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, give notice that a supplemental watershed plan and environmental impact statement is being prepared for the Long Beach Watershed, Harrison County, Mississippi.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kurt Readus, State Conservationist, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 100 W. Capitol St., Jackson, MS 39269, telephone 601/965-5205.
SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION: This federally assisted action may cause significant local, regional, or national impacts on the environment. As a result, Kurt Readus, State Conservationist, has determined that the preparation and review of a supplemental environmental impact statement is needed for this project.
Background: Mississippi’s 10,857-acre Long Beach Watershed (hydrologic unit code #03170009-0603) consists of mainly urban and outlying built-up areas in the southwest corner of Harrison County adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. The watershed includes a large portion of the City of Long Beach, a small part of the City of Pass Christian, and unincorporated portions of Harrison County. As of 2015, land use/land cover in the watershed was approximately composed of: 688 acres of grassland, 4,206 acres of forest; 4,825 acres of urban and built-up land; 546 acres of marsh, 536 acres of idle land, and 56 acres of other aquacultural and small ponds.
The watershed has two separate flood control infrastructure systems; 1) a federal Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act (Public Law 83-566) project consisting of two (2) flood control Canals (No. 1 and No. 2/3), and 2) the City of Long Beach’s municipal network of smaller “back yard” drainage ditches, pipelines and culverts that conveys stormwater to the PL 566 canals. Canal No. 1 starts at the upper end of Johnson Bayou and Canal No. 2/3 at the upper end of Bayou Portage. During high water conditions Turkey Creek to the northeast also overflows into the Long Beach watershed and into Canal No. 1 and No. 2/3 which impacts their capacity assimilate floodwater from the City of Long Beach. The Canals are generally parallel and flow southwesterly before discharging into Bay St. Louis and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. Local sponsors work with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to maintain the Canals. The NRCS prepared a Watershed Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Long Beach Watershed PL 566 project in October 1989 and a Supplemental Plan and EIS (SEIS) in September 2015. Long Beach’s municipal stormwater system covers eight (8) sub-basins that drain into Canal No. 1 or No. 2/3.
Need: The Long Beach watershed has complex flow patterns. Flooding occurs when rainfall exceeds the capacity of the municipal stormwater system and PL 566 project. The watershed’s flooding can be exacerbated by overflows from Turkey Creek. Since 1995 the City of Long Beach has reported eight (8) property damaging floods. Two (2) were caused by hurricanes including the flood of record caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The remaining six (6) floods were caused by severe spring storms.
There is no stream gage or weather station in the Long Beach watershed; however, the watershed is sited between the Jourdan and Wolf Rivers which can serve as proxies to document Long Beach’s. The National Weather Service has gages to track flooding on the Jourdan River at Kiln, MS and the Wolf River above Gulfport, MS. For the Jourdan River, the elevations in feet for major, moderate, flood and action floods are 10, 8, 6 and 5 respectively. For the Wolf River the elevations are, 15, 12, 8 and 7 respectively.
The increasing frequency and severity of the Long Beach watershed’s flooding issues are shown by the Jourdan River’s twenty-four (24) historic floods all occurring since May 10, 1995. The Jourdan River reached an elevation of 19.97 feet during its August 29, 2005 record flood. The Wolf River also supports the proposition that the Long Beach watershed is suffering more frequent and severe flooding. Sixteen (16) of the Wolf River’s twenty-six (26) historic floods occurred since May 10, 1995. The Wolf River reached an elevation of 16.50 feet during its record flood on September 1, 2012.
These frequent, severe floods have overwhelmed the municipal stormwater infrastructure. In some locations, this infrastructure is unable to effectively convey the runoff from a storm that creates even a 10-year flood event much less 25-year event. Many of the small “back yard” ditches have eroded and bank sloughing is threatening private homes, buildings and infrastructure. Drainage pipes were either installed or have settled to develop a reverse slope. Likewise, many of the corrugated metal pipes and culverts are undersized, old and failing. Currently flooding in the Long Beach watershed threatens public safety and has affected private homes and yards, businesses, public streets, including evacuation routes, schools, etc. Street flooding is dangerously deep with sheet-flow across streets common. These recurring floods have exhausted not only the City of Long Beach’s resources to recover from storm events, but also drained residents’ personal finances. Many of Long Beach’s homes and businesses have flooded multiple times. The need to expeditiously and sustainably resolve the Long Beach watershed’s stormwater/drainage issues led the City of Long Beach to host an inter-agency Drainage Crisis Forum on June 14, 2018, seeking guidance on potential solutions.
Purpose: The proposed project is necessary to identify and evaluate alternatives to restore and possibly modify the municipal stormwater network to more efficiently and effectively convey flood water to the PL 566 Project’s Canal No. 1 and No. 2/3. In particular, the project will evaluate integrating new detention/retention ponds into the watershed’s stormwater and flood control infrastructure to: 1) detain (temporarily store stormwater); 2) retain (permanently store stormwater); or 3) a combination of detention/retention. The size, location, number, and mix of detention/retention ponds will be determined in conjunction with public participation and input to achieve necessary stormwater/drainage improvements to protect public safety, minimize property damage, and enhance the quality of life and local agriculture by detaining/retaining peak flood before conveying them to Canal No. 1 and No. 2/3. The evaluation will focus on the watershed’s eight (8) sub-basins that have been identified as having undersized or otherwise failing stormwater infrastructure and discharge into Canal No. 1 and No. 2/3. To the extent practicable, the feasibility of detention/retention basin/s to delay the inflow of peak flood flows from Turkey Creek into the Long Beach watershed will also be evaluated.
A draft supplemental Watershed Plan and Environmental Impact Statement will be prepared and circulated for review by agencies and the public to identify and evaluate various alternatives, including a no action alternative, to determine the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative to meet the identified need. The Natural Resources Conservation Service invited participation and consultation of agencies and individuals that have special expertise, legal jurisdiction, or interest in the preparation of the draft supplemental Watershed Plan and Environmental Impact Statement.
To accommodate potential COVID-19 guidelines, an in person and virtual public meeting will be on Thursday, April 15, 2021 from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm CST, in the City of Long Beach, Mississippi Board Room, 201 Jeff Davis, Ave, Long Beach, Mississippi, to determine the scope of the evaluation of the proposed action. Online attendees may access information on how to join the meeting at the following website: https://www.longbeachfloodcontrol.com Questions and comments will be received by the project staff from both in-person and online attendees. Any individual who needs auxiliary aids or special accommodations to attend the meeting should contact the City of Long Beach at (228) 863-1556 or NRCS at (601) 863-3947 to make their needs known in advance of the meeting.