Forum on watershed discusses dangers to it

Published 11:32 pm Saturday, November 18, 2006

Water, waste water and storm water are in major distress and unless something is done soon Pearl River County’s children and grandchildren will miss out on things currently taken for granted.

At the most recent watershed forum, hosted by the Land Trust for Mississippi Coastal Plain and held at the Senior Center in Picayune, issues such as the Utility Authority, the Land Trust itself, land use management and saving Hobolochitto Creek were discussed.

The Utility Authority, represented by president Steve Lawler at the forum, has met with resistance from some residents of the county. He said they have been fearful that the authority will take over when they begin operations. Lawler said the authority is actually looking out for the welfare of the county by looking to the future for the county’s children and grandchildren, especially after Hurricane Katrina.

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“We are not living in the same county we were a year and three months ago,” Lawler said.

Since most soil in the county does not percolate well enough for septic tanks, an alternative waste water system needs to be put in place. Lawler said the authority has been looking into many alternative methods that could be used in the future. However, those changes will not take place immediately. New rules and regulations will not be imposed on existing systems unless the home they are connected to is sold, he said. Those new rules and regulations will be expected to be followed for new systems as they are built in the future, however. Also, the authority does not intend to go into currently certified areas and tell water service providers that they are taking over, but the authority would like to work with them to ensure that water service is maintained and waste water is handled properly.

Currently, 60 percent of the water taken out of the ground in Poplarville is lost due to substandard infrastructure while Picayune is losing about 30 percent of the water taken out of the ground, Lawler said.

“If we don’t get the people of Pearl River County to understand what we are trying to do, this could fall apart easily,” Lawler said about the authority. “The future of this county is going to depend on what we do in the next two to three years.”

To help with Poplarville’s situation, Lawler said the authority has planned to use $2 million of the $55 million promised to it by Haley Barbour to build a new well, not because their system is faulty, but to help provide the service necessary for future growth in Poplarville and the surrounding communities, Lawler said. Money also is earmarked to help with Picayune’s problem.

Over-development is a problem in some communities that did not use a plan for growth. To avoid that here some organizations have options.

The Land Trust is an organization that deals with securing land to maintain green or open space, said Land Trust director Jody Steckler. Once that land is secured by the Land Trust, it remains conservation land forever, a place that long-time residents may remember playing in the great outdoors.

“We’re trying to provide places where your grandchild will have the opportunity to have the same experiences,” Steckler said.

One such area is being developed but in a different way, Wildwood subdivision. This will have the land owners give up certain rights they would normally have, such as the ability to clear cut their property, if the Land Trust was not involved, Steckler said.

Getting water out of the county is a major concern for most people who live in flood zones, but one ecologist argues that the people of the county should be more concerned with keeping that water in the county.

Hobolochitto Creek, which drains a major watershed, is still a concern for the county since it has been in disrepair for years. Boley Creek, as it is commonly called locally, is the major watershed for the western part of Pearl River County, said Restorative Ecologist Jim Kelly.

“No matter where you live, you live in a water shed,” Kelly said.

Boley Creek is eroding and taking the water table with it in the process. Kelly said there are ways to correct the problem through both passive and active restoration.

In passive restoration, the use of natural materials, such as tree stumps, are used to slow the velocity of the water so more sediment stays in and is added to the banks of the creek.

In active restoration, such as what is currently planned for the portion of Wolf River in the county, the path of the river will be altered to follow a more natural curved path, Kelly said. This curved path traps silt as the water flows along the banks instead of carrying it away, which is what happens in waterways with a straight path, Kelly said.

The higher the water table, the more water is trapped in the county to replenish the water supply for the county; the lower the water table, the more water escapes and goes straight to the Gulf of Mexico, Kelly said.

Since Hurricane Katrina, there has been talk of removing the debris in the Boley Creek but Kelly does not suggest removing the debris. If county decision makers do decide it is necessary, then Kelly suggests only removing enough debris to leave a path large enough to travel the creek. However, recently the creek does not have enough water in it to travel down.

Also, as the county grows in population and infrastructure, many things must be considered. Julia Anderson with the Pearl River County Planning Department said there currently is a smart growth plan being formed to ensure the preservation of historic and open spaces while protecting the environment. The department is seeking public comment to help form the plan, Anderson said.