Protecting the Pearl

August 17, 2018

Protecting the Pearl

One lake proposal threatens the Lower Pearl River ecosystems

by Ross Baringer

In the last century the US was the world leader in new dam construction, erecting thousands of dams
on rivers across the country. After several decades of observing the broad impact of damming, from
flood pattern change to environmental degradation, the US is now the world leader in removing
dams from its rivers. 1,403 dams have been removed over the last century. River restoration has
been gaining momentum across the country. 72 dams were removed in 21 states during 2016.
However, there is resistance to this changing attitude about damming. A project called One Lake is
trying to build its own momentum in Jackson, MS.
The Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District has developed the One Lake
project as what it claims is a flood-control measure. But a closer look reveals what seems more like a
plan motivated by land development and economic opportunity. The project proposes building a dam
on the Pearl River just south of Jackson that would involve dredging and widening the river to create
a new reservoir. The proposed location is just a few miles down river from the reservoir created by
the Ross Barnett dam, which was completed in 1963. Since then river communities south of the Ross
Barnett have had front row seats to observe the negative effects it has had down river.
The reduced flow has increased the concentration of pollutants in the water and impacted food
sources for endangered and endemic animal life along the Pearl River and its tributaries. One of these
animals is the ringed map turtle or ringed sawback turtle. This endemic species is found no where
else on earth besides the Pearl River system. Its numbers have dwindled significantly since the Ross
Barnett was buit in 1963 due to factors that can be directly attributed to the dam. One Lake project
would further reduce the flow of the Pearl and almost certainly increase the strain on this unique
turtle species such that recovery would be impossible.
The One Lake project is currently in the public comment phase, and statements made will be
included in the final Environmental Impact Statement, which will be read and reviewed by the Corps
of Engineers before approval. Several public meetings have been held during this period, but
attendees who expected a chance to raise questions in an open public setting have been
disappointed. All public meetings so far have been sponsored by the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood
and Drainage Control District and were set up more as a way for the proponents of the dam to give a
polished presentation of their proposal. Attendees with questions or comments were directed to
various experts in one on one conversations after the presentation. This prevents opponents of the
proposal from hearing each others concerns, as well as keeping media coverage from getting a clear
sense of how the public feels about the project.
The final public meeting takes place just hours from this blog being written, so while anyone reading
this might not do so until after the meeting has taken place it is important to point out that the public
comment period doesn’t end until September 6 th . Public comments will be included in the final
Environmental Impact statement and can be made at http://rankinhindsflooddistrict.ms.gov/