In 1979, Jackson, Mississippi experienced one the worst floods in the history of the state â€“ costing half a billion dollars in damages and engulfing much of the stateâ€™s capital city. Almost since the floodwaters receded, people have been bickering about the best way to prevent a reoccurrence of this disaster and that debate continues today.
One Lake Proposal, image courtesy of USACE.
Frequently this debate has focused on two, often conflicting, but equally flawed choices for â€śtamingâ€ť the Pearl River: levees and artificial lakes. Both of these options would have significant impacts on nearby wetlands, downstream communities, and the health of the Pearl River.
The Pearl River, which runs from its headwaters in central Mississippi all the way to Lake Borgne, plays a critical role in Mississippi and Louisianaâ€™s economy, culture, and natural heritage. It is also vital for sustaining coastal wetlands which serve as natural hurricane and storm surge protection for coastal communities.
In 2008, GRN and our conservation partners helped nominate the Pearl River as one of the nationâ€™s Most Endangered Rivers due to a plan to create two fake lakes on the river in the Jackson area. Although developers were trying to sell these fake lakes as flood control, the truth is that it would have spurred intense development in the floodplain of the Pearl River for private commercial gain â€“ sacrificing almost 5,500 acres of wetlands and 7,800 acres of bottomland hardwood forests in the process. Ultimately, this plan was defeated, but in recent months the local Levee Board has been up to its old tricks: pushing to dam the Pearl and create a lake for economic development.
As it stands now, the Levee Board is urging the Army Corps of Engineers to consider a proposal to dam the Pearl to create a single lake. The Corps, while expressing a willingness to look at such a proposal, prefers a solution that is focused exclusively on levees.
When looking at all of the proposals being developed for the Pearl we found a glaring omissionâ€”there is no comprehensive river wide approach. Flood control in Jackson cannot be developed without looking both upstream and downstream. Current proposals, in their failure to look comprehensively, would only exacerbate and shift the problems downstream. The Pearl, the communities along its banks, and the people who enjoy its beauty and resources deserve better!
GRN will continue to monitor the situation, and push decision makers to develop a comprehensive plan for the Pearl that addresses all of its problems and needs from the headwaters to the Gulf.
Raleigh Hoke is GRN's Mississippi Organizer