Norman Sisson and his Pearl River Clean Sweep team were the first to report the massive tire dumps on the Pearl River between the Old Brandon Rd bridge and Highway 80 in Jackson. The tires had likely been marring the landscape of the river for decades; hundreds of them imprinted with dates from the 1960's to early 2000's. This forgotten wasteland could be seen every time travelers passed over the Highway 80 bridge on their way to and from Jackson. The dump was located less than 2 miles from MDEQ headquarters yet it remained in place, leaching contaminants into the water and soil, providing a haven for mosquito populations and contributing to the blight that plagues our capital city.
The local news reported on the issue here and here. Pearl Riverkeeper escorted members of the City of Jackson and MDEQ to the location on two separate occasions. Plans were initiated by MDEQ to remove the tires. Yet, one year later, when Norman Sisson again led his crew of boaters and kayakers down river to clean up this section of river, the tire dump remained. That is, until 2 Mississippi natives and local fishermen decided enough was enough. Concerned that the tires were being swept downriver after each high rain event, John Breland mobilized some friends for a Saturday morning cleanup event that exceeded all expectations. Over the course of several hours, John, Berry Blanton and 8 other dedicated volunteers removed 204 tires from the west side sandbar, leaving the area completely free of all trash, debris and tires.
Shout out to organizer and leader, John Breland, heavy equipment operator, Berry Blanton, and all of the other hard-working volunteers for leaving this area better that the way they found out. You can thank them for contributing to a cleaner swimmable, fishable, drinkable Pearl River.
E. coli, a bacteria found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, can enter our waterways through agricultural runoff, wildlife, and leaking septic/sewer systems. Human risk of getting sick from recreating in open water increases as E. coli concentration increases and young people and people with a compromised immune system are at greater risk. E.coli itself can cause illnesses such as "swimmer's ear", upset stomach, and diarrhea, and E.coli can also indicate the presence of other more harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Shigella and Giardia.
Pearl Riverkeeper volunteers conducted 56 E.coli tests during 14 weeks in May through August at Natchez Trace Overlook, Old Trace Park, Lakeshore Park and Pelahatchie Bay Fishing Pier. Results were posted each Friday on the Pearl Riverkeeper website, Swim Guide and through text alerts. A location was marked Green if the test met EPA water quality standards or marked Red if the test exceeded the standard. We issued 9 "high E.coli" alerts over the 14 weeks of summer. Read the full results.
What the data shows on the whole is that, in general, these Ross Barnett Reservoir locations are quite safe to swim. Heavy rains in the area had great impact on local water quality. Please use caution immediately after rainstorms as sewer overflows, failing septic and stormwater runoff can contain high levels of bacteria.
The state of Mississippi has over 26,000 miles of perennial streams and rivers. For the state's 2016 Water Quality Assessment, MDEQ assessed only 11% of our waterways and stated that the status of water quality on the remaining 89% (23,568 miles) is unknown. Citizen science from our certified water quality monitors can help fill in the gaps and provide early detection of water quality issues in areas not actively monitored.
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Thank you to all of our volunteers, supporters, Swim Guide, MDEQ and Global Water Watch for making this inaugural year of Swim Guide a huge success!
The proposed One Lake project would destroy 1,500 acres of Jackson-area wetlands that we will never get back. Wetlands are among the most valuable ecosystems on the plant. According to a recent study, the economic value of the ecological services provided by wetlands is $5,582/acre/year.
-A bottomland hardwood swamp can remove the same amount of pollutants as a $5 million water treatment plant.
-Wetlands function like natural sponges, storing water and slowly releasing it, reducing flood heights, allowing for groundwater recharge, and slowing the water's erosive potential. Maintaining only 15% of a watershed in wetlands can reduce flood peaks as much as 60%. Wetlands can reduce flood damage by $8,000/acre/year by absorbing stormwater. An acre of wetlands can store 1-1.5 million gallons of floodwater.
-Two thirds of all fish consumed worldwide are dependent on wetlands at some stage in their cycle.
-The cost saving for removal of carbon from the atmosphere is $2 of damage prevention annually per ton of carbon removed. Wetlands are estimated to store between 81 and 216 metric tons of carbon per acre.
-Wetlands are home to 31% of our plant species.
-Wetlands are some of the most biologically productive natural ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests. and coral reefs in their productivity and diversity of species.
-Up to 50% of North American bird species nest or feed in wetlands.
These wetlands belong to all of us and to our future generations, not to the One Lake developers.
Learn more here: https://www.pearlriverkeeper.com/one-river-no-lake.html
Sources: EPA and the Conservation Fund (https://valuewetlands.tamu.edu/…/wetland-ecological-benefi…/)
by Will Selman
The Pearl River system hosts two unique turtle species: the Ringed Sawback (Graptemys oculifera) and the Pearl Map Turtle (Graptemys pearlensis). Neither of these species can be found anywhere else in the world… only the Pearl River system of Mississippi and Louisiana! The Ringed Sawback was designated as federally threatened in 1986, while the Pearl Map Turtle was petitioned in 2011 to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Both turtle species are of conservation concern for a number of reasons mainly associated with alterations to their river habitat. Alterations include construction of dams, channelization of rivers, and excess river sedimentation.
Millsaps College students and I have been conducting surveys for the Ringed Sawback and Pearl Map Turtle over the last couple of summers in the Jackson area. Our surveys are inclusive of the One Lake Project Area (i.e., where the lake will be constructed), and our surveys also include both upstream and downstream segments of the Project Area. The data we have collected over the last couple of summers are in contradiction to many of the statements recently published in the Integrated Draft Feasibility & Environmental Impact Statement (hereafter, draft EIS) by the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood Drainage and Control District. Below I highlight a few of our findings and compare them to the draft EIS.
Finding 1: The draft EIS states that “survey efforts have been limited and the extent of the [Ringed Sawback] population within the Project Area is not known at this time.” Contrary to this statement, our surveys have found that the Ringed Sawback can occur in great numbers upstream, downstream, and within the Project Areato be impounded by One Lake. Based on our population surveys in this stretch, we have observed between 56 – 280 Ringed Sawbacks basking per river mile within the Project Area. When we survey, we only count turtles basking on logs, and this count is not inclusive of the many turtles that may be underwater and unobservable during our surveys. Therefore, if we account for those that are unobservable, we estimate that the total Ringed Sawback population in the Project Area is likely ~1,200 – 2,500 individuals (including adults and juveniles).
Finding 2: The draft EIS states that previous flood control projects in Jackson have “degraded habitat for Ringed Sawbacks and nesting habitat is almost non-existent.” Indeed, the channelization and desnagging of the Pearl River has negatively impacted portions of the riverine habitat in the Project Area (mostly between Lefleur’s Bluff State Park and south of I-20). But as mentioned above, our research indicates that a healthy Ringed Sawback population occurs where the One Lake Project is proposed. Further, a recently published study indicates that the population north of Lakeland Drive is the most stable of five sites studied for the last 30 years, and the Lakeland population has increased in size since 2000; three of the other four study populations were declining (Jones 2017).
Contrary to the draft EIS, we also have observed direct evidence of significant nesting and successful reproduction of Ringed Sawbacks in the Project Area. We have observed Ringed Sawback females nesting on sandbars in the Project area, seen many tracks on sandbars by nesting females, and nests destroyed by predators; all of these are indicative of suitable nesting habitat and a reproductively viable population. During a survey this year, we observed that 27% of the basking turtles were hatchlings or juveniles, and this is indicative of exceptional recruitment in this stretch over the last couple of years. It is unknown why reproduction has been so successful in this urban stretch of river, and it seems somewhat counterintuitive.
Finding 3: The draft EIS states that the impacts to the Ringed Sawback population will be “minor in intensity and long-term in duration.” For both turtle species that specialize in flowing Pearl River habitats, if a dam turns a flowing river into a stagnant lake, these riverine turtles will likely be lost over time. I would consider such a change “habitat alteration”, a primary threat to the species outlined in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ringed Sawback Recovery Plan. Impounding a river to form a lake is equivalent of taking a hardwood forest, cutting it down, and planting a row crop like corn; the habitat will be completely altered to something dissimilar to its current state. We have observed in Crystal Lake and Mayes Lakes (old channels of the Pearl that are now lakes) that there are only a few Ringed Sawbacks compared to turtles that prefer non-flowing water, like Red-eared Sliders. Similarly, if the One Lake Project is constructed, I suspect that some Ringed Sawbacks will likely “hold on” in the lake. But over time, common turtles that are better adapted to the non-flowing water will replace Ringed Sawbacks. Thus, turtles will still occur in the lake, but the rare species like the Ringed Sawback and Pearl Map Turtle will disappear over time, and the area will be colonized by cosmopolitan species. Therefore, I would suggest that the impacts to this population will not be “minor in intensity.” I suggest that it will be major in intensity and long-term in duration.
The draft EIS makes many assumptions about the Ringed Sawback, but it does not have any data to support these assumptions. However, our survey data indicates that Ringed Sawbacks can occur in great abundance along the Project Area and recruitment/reproduction are better in this stretch than what has been observed in most Ringed Sawback populations. Thus, if completed, the One Lake Project will be a major blow to this population and negatively impact the recovery of the species.
Will Selman is an assistant professor of Biology at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS. He has conducted population surveys and ecological research on Map Turtles and Sawbacks in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama over the last 15 years.
The Pearl River map turtle (Graptemys pearlensis) exists nowhere else in the world except the Pearl and Bogue Chitto Rivers. It is listed as an Endangered Species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Wild populations of the Pearl River map turtle have declined as much as 98% since 1950, mostly due to water pollution impacting our river's mollusk population. According to a publication by Kristina Alexander from Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program, dredging and widening the Pearl for the One Lake project would threaten the habitat of this species and another threatened species, the ringed map turtle. The US Fish & Wildlife Service has stated that "(i)f the proposed reservoir is completed, it would likely result in the extirpation of the known ringed map turtle population (south of the current reservoir)." Read more here: http://masglp.olemiss.edu/publications/conservation/mapturtle.pd
Signs of spring during a recent tour of the Fannye Cook Natural Area. The Natural Area, currently closed to the public except for private tours, is located on 2,700 acres along the banks of the Pearl River in Flowood. The land was donated to Wildlife Mississippi by MDOT through a wetlands mitigation program to offset losses of wetlands from previous road construction projects in the Pearl River Basin. Wildlife Mississippi is hard at work on preparations to open the Natural Area to the public. This beautiful space will be a haven for walkers, runners, bird watchers, and nature enthusiasts. There are also plans to add a much-needed kayak and/or boat launch at the location. According to MDOT, this will be Mississippi's largest urban natural area, with more than 820,000 people living within 60 miles of the site.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 5, "to express opposition to the 'One Lake' project", has been adopted by the Louisiana State Legislature, House and Senate. Thank you Senator Beth Mizell, Senator Sharon Hewitt, Representative Malinda Brumfield-White and others for authoring this bill and for your leadership in a holistic approach to the health of the Pearl River. This river belongs to all of us, not just the developers.
Pearl Riverkeeper spent an awesome day spent on the Middle Pearl yesterday helping Fish & Wildlife Service with their Juvenile Sturgeon population study. FWS is on their third year of tagging and tracking Pearl River juvenile Gulf sturgeons in order to study their population, movements and migration patterns. The Pearl River is designated "Critical Habitat" for this threatened species that migrates seasonally up and down the river. Gulf sturgeon move from the Gulf of Mexico into coastal rivers in early spring and spawning occurs in the upper reaches of these rivers. Dams such as the sills at Pools Bluff and Jackson Waterworks block this species' passage to its historical spawning habitats.
Packed house at the beautiful Smith Robertson Museum & Cultural Center for the One Lake Forum last night. Thank you to all of the community-minded, engaged citizens who came out to learn about the potential detrimental economic and environmental impacts of the One Lake project. We appreciate your heart-felt love for the Pearl River! #OneRiverNoLake