PASCAGOULA – Mother Nature hasn’t been kind to Jackson County industries in the past couple of years. In 1998 flooding from Hurricane Georges caused more than $100 million in damages to industries in the eastern part of the county with higher water levels that were seen even in Hurricane Camille.
Now the industries have gone from having too much water to not enough. After nearly two years of drought, record low levels in the Pascagoula River have raised the specter of curtailed or completely discontinued water withdrawals.
Some people are even saying a hurricane-or the rain it would bring, to be precise-would be welcome.
Chevron Refinery is the industrial park’s largest water user, consuming about 14 million gallons of water per day. Because this is one of the largest refineries in the county, a shutdown could have far-ranging economic impacts due to increased gasoline prices that could result from a decreased supply.
The refinery produces about 5.5 million gallons of gasoline daily in addition to other petroleum products like jet fuel. In addition to lost profits from sales, it is also expensive to shut down the refinery because of personnel and start-up costs.
The river has recently reached the low-flow levels that require under state law that water use be curtailed or discontinued. But water shortages have been averted for now by a Jackson County Port Authority agreement to purchase water from Pat Harrison Waterway District’s Chickasaway Reservoir north of Meridian. The water will be transported 190 miles down the river to the intake at Cumbest Bluff for the Pascagoula Industrial Water Supply System operated by the port authority.
“This agreement insures the industries will be able to continue to operate without curtailment of water use,” said Charles Branch, chief of the Office of Land and Water Resources for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
Branch said that an estimated 4 billion gallons of water are stored in the reservoir. Modeling studies done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1990 and 1991 indicate that when water is released from the Meridian, it takes seven days to travel downstream to Cumbest Bluff.
In addition to helping the industries, which will pay the $200,000 bill for the water, Branch said the aquatic resources of the river will also benefit due to the addition of water that normally wouldn’t be there during a drought.
Another 80 days of dry weather are expected as October and early November are normally the driest months of the year. It isn’t yet known if the water from the reservoir will last through the end of the drought because that depends on weather conditions such as rainfall in the watershed and heat, which can affect the amount of water that evaporates before it reaches Pascagoula.
Chevron has already taken steps to reduce its water consumption by two million gallons per day, according to spokesman Steve Renfroe.
“It is in industry’s best interest to conserve water as much as possible,” Renfroe said. “This is a finite amount of water, so we have to make it last as long as possible. We are doing some significant things in the refinery to conserve water and use as little as we can.”
Most of the water savings are coming from recycling water from the cooling water lagoon into the fire water system. Water at the refinery is primarily used for cooling. Crude oil and other petroleum products are heated up for refining, and then the water is cooled down with large cooling towers. An estimated seven million gallons of water per day evaporates from the towers.
The other largest industrial water user in Jackson County is Mississippi Power Company’s (MPC) Plant Daniel in Escatawpa, which uses about 17 million gallons per day during the hottest periods of the year. MPC spokesman Kurt Brautigam said the power plant could continue to operate even if withdrawals were curtailed or stopped. The 1,000-megawatt, coal-fired plant has a 30- to 45-day supply of water in its cooling water reservoir.
“We have not experienced any difficulty so far this summer because of water supplies,” Brautigam said.
On Aug. 29 MPC set a new all-time record for electricity consumption in its service area. There was a total demand of 2,593,000 kilowatts on the system that spans 23 counties in South Mississippi.
The only time the Chevron Refinery has completely shut down previously has been when a hurricane approached. But Chevron hopes that by the time the next hurricane hits, the refinery will be protected by a new $10-million project to raise the refinery dike.
“A new combination earthen dike and concrete wall structure at the refinery’s perimeter east of Highway 611 will protect the facility against a 500-year storm surge, compared to the existing dike’s 20- to 25-year surge event protection,” said Norm Szydlowski, refinery general manager. “The new dike is a strategic economic investment, based on the facility’s risk of storm surge flooding and the costs associated with damages and lost production.”
The surge water from Hurricane Georges that heavily damaged and shut down the refinery for three months in 1998 was considered a 100-year surge event.
Chevron made the decision to construct the $10-million dike earlier this year following an extensive storm surge protection study that included input from an independent risk evaluation company, a coastal engineering consultant from the Netherlands, and Scott Douglass, Ph.D, with the University of South Alabama’s civil engineering department.
Manning Construction of Pascagoula began construction on the earthen dike in late March. The refinery’s dredge material from dredging projects in Bayou Casotte will be used to form the earthen dike. Szydlowski said utilizing the dredge material is cost effective and will free up space at the refinery’s dredge material storage area west of Highway 611.
Yates Construction-Biloxi is the contractor for the concrete wall that will connect with the earthen structure along Highway 611.
The completed project will raise the existing dike from an elevation of about nine feet (mean low water) to approximately 16 feet on the refinery’s north and west sides. It will bring the dike up from 12 feet to about 20 feet on the refinery’s east and south borders, the areas that are vulnerable to wave action as well as surge waters.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.