One Lake: A far cry from Pearl River restoration, part 1

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, July 26, 2017

By Andrew Whitehurst and Jayne Buttross

In the Lower Pearl River system, between Mississippi and Louisiana, there are good things happening.  Projects to restore river function and to improve coastal habitats near the Pearl’s mouth are either under way or are in the final planning stages.  But efforts to build a new dam and lake upstream in the Jackson area are indefensible.

As the Lower Pearl River is receiving some desperately needed restoration, a private/public enterprise is about to unveil its dubious proposal to build a costly dam and lake in the Jackson-metro.  If this proposed dam gets approved and funded, it can negatively impact the Pearl all the way to the Gulf.

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Great things are happening on the Pearl through public/private partnerships, but the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District is supporting the “One Lake” proposal of the private-non-profit “Pearl River Vision Foundation” (PRVF). 

The PRVF is using public money to promote a dam and lake and to lobby Congress for approval and public funding.  The restoration happening on the Pearl will be undone by a lake and dam.  And flooding can be managed more wisely and effectively without a lake and dam.

Here is a look at some of the Pearl-related restoration projects.

In Mississippi, some of the earliest projects funded by the BP oil spill settlement were focused on restoring more than 1,450 acres of hard bottom in the Western Mississippi Sound for oyster reef restoration.

The Bayou Heron Living Shoreline project is using $50 million of settlement money to restore and protect shoreline, create new marsh and build oyster bottoms, from the mouth of the Pearl River eastward six miles toward Bayou Caddy in Hancock County.

Two other projects funded by BP settlement money will study the impacts of water movement in the Pearl and the Gulf, the balance of saltwater and freshwater in the western Mississippi Sound, and will model flow in the lower 40 miles of the Pearl.

These studies are being undertaken by Mississippi State University, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and private contractors. Modeling fresh water flow in the Lower Pearl is important for predicting salinity and oxygen levels critical to the health of the coastal estuaries and the Gulf Coast’s recreational and commercial fisheries, and is foundational to the ultimate success of tens of millions of dollars-worth of oyster bottom and marsh creation work underway in the western Mississippi Sound and in southeastern Louisiana.