Watershed forum informs citizens

Published 3:27 pm Thursday, October 26, 2006

Water has to go somewhere when it falls from the sky, but the faster that water leaves the worse it is for the county.

A major problem Pearl River County has been having is the increased erosion of Hobolochitto Creek, which is a major watershed. Two experts in the field attended a forum recently and talked briefly about what happens when creeks and rivers begin to erode.

Naturally creeks and rivers wind and bend, which provides a natural resistance to erosion. That winding and bending keeps the water from moving too fast by releasing energy and helps provide a place for sediment to be deposited, said Jim Kelly with Eco-Logic Restoration Services. When creeks and rivers straighten out they cause extensive erosion since the energy in the water is not released, the water erodes the water way and the water table lowers with the creek bed, which causes adverse affects to the fish and other wildlife, Kelly said.

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As the banks erode they take the trees along the bank with them exposing more water to sunlight, which in turn changes the chemical composition of the water, Kelly said. Boley Creek is currently experiencing these problems, however the creek can be repaired.

“It can be changed and it can be changed for the better,” Kelly said.

Some ideas Kelly posed to help alleviate the problem included acquiring conservation easements, encouraging developments to avoid wetlands, and using sewer infrastructure to reduce water contamination from on site systems.

Dr. Mike Hanley, Fluvial Geomorphologist for Sustainable Watershed Technologies, said bodies of water such as Boley Creek tend to remain stable as long as they are left alone, but once they are degraded they cut their banks and over widen. Once a creek develops high banks the sediment carried by the creek increases by 10,000 units, Hanley said. Each of these problems are related and if left unchecked the situation will only worsen.

“If you see instability you have to address it,” Hanley said. “If I’m a fish in the river and the river is (not) deep I can’t spawn…because my back is sticking out of the water. I’ll get sunburn on my back.”

Once a water way gets to that level of degradation engineering efforts would be needed to correct the problem.

A major concern, especially since Hurricane Katrina, is the amount of woody debris in the creek and whether it should be cleaned or not. Darrin Harris posed that same question to Hanley and Kelly. Some residents with those concerns want to get water out of the county as fast as possible to avoid flooding of property, Harris said. However the faster water moves the more land it takes with it in the form of sediment, Hanley said.

The debris in the creeks left by Katrina could be just what Boley Creek needs for natural restoration since a waterway’s natural process is to throw trees in the water to heal itself as it degrades, Hanley said. With careful planning and proper placement of the wood, or trees, in the creek there may not be a need to remove all or any of the trees, Kelly said.

Part of that water management will fall on the newly formed Pearl River County Utility Authority. Authority president Steve Lawler addressed those in attendance on what the authority is working on with their rules and regulations. Lawler said the authority has met with some resistance from those who are most directly involved with community water services.

“I’ve only been on this since the first of June, and I have been in more hostile meetings with people who do not keep an open mind,” Lawler said.

Smart growth is the way the county can plan for future growth and keep watershed healthy, Lawler said. While waste water is a priority in the county as the authority is getting their feet wet, storm water is in the books and monetary aid is being applied for, Lawler said.

There was a problem with the funding the authority thought they were getting for waste water. Lawler said the authority was expecting to get about $95 million in state aid from the $500 million Gov. Haley Barbour set aside to initiate the authorities in the six coastal counties. That number has been cut drastically to an unknown amount because of the misinformation being spread in the county, Lawler said.

“Now we’re going back to a position where we can’t do what we want to do,” Lawler said. “We have to educate people to look beyond their own septic tank.”

The local water associations have expressed their fear of the authority taking control of their operations, but Lawler said he has assured them that the authority, by law, cannot do that. He said the rules and regulations are available to the public at the Planning and Development office and the Board of Supervisors office, both in Poplarville, Lawler said.

There will be another Watershed Forum in Picayune on Nov. 16 at 5:30 p.m. where further discussion and a light dinner will be served.