I have spent the last couple of summers researching on the Pearl River around Jackson, and I wonder if the proponents of the One Lake Project have stepped on the riverbanks along this stretch. Have they seen the massive amounts of human trash and waste? One can find almost any household item you could imagine. I can point you to a children’s blue train bed frame, an old tube TV, or an old set of white-walled tires. There are also many “Pearl River Prayer Trees.” These are akin to prayer flag trees in Tibet, but visualize replacing the prayer flags with plastic shopping bags.
In my opinion, this is the least attractive stretch of the Pearl River from Neshoba County down to Hancock County. One of the main things that “feeds” trash to the Pearl are the many urban creeks that drain the city of Jackson and Flowood, and these are likely some of the most polluted streams in the state. Every time we receive a large rain, trash and all sorts of human waste flows downstream into the Pearl. The trash either floats downstream to other river towns (Monticello, Columbia, Bogalusa), sinks to the bottom, or continues floating into the Gulf of Mexico.
Where will all of this trash end up after the One Lake Project is completed? You guessed it… it will be floating and sinking in the lake. I applaud the efforts of Abby Braman and other volunteers who clean up the Pearl River, but volunteers are no match for this volume of trash. Therefore, how much money is the city or county going to pay to keep the lake clean of this mess, and where will the funds come from?
Along with trash, all of these feeder creeks also bring fertilizers downstream. What happens when you apply fertilizer to your yard? It makes your grass grow lush and green. What happens when a lake receives excess fertilizer that runs off your lawn? We see aquatic plants of the lake — like algae, duckweed, cattails — grow lush and green. This is called eutrophication. When this happens it degrades water quality and decreases dissolved oxygen in the water. With less dissolved oxygen, this will starve fish and other aquatic organisms of oxygen to breath, and therefore, this will increase the possibility of fish kills. So now visualize the lake not only being trashy, but also green with dead fish floating on the surface.
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Along with this scenario, we also need to consider the toxic contaminants that are currently trapped in the sediment below and around the Pearl. These contaminants have accumulated since the settlement of Jackson in the early 1800s, so there is no telling what harmful chemicals (e.g., DDT/DDE, creosote) or heavy metals (e.g., Mercury) are in the sediment. Other rivers, like the Hudson River, have toxic levels of PCBs in the sediment, and once dredged have to be treated appropriately. So what will happen with the millions of cubic yards of dredged sediment from the Pearl and any contaminants? Will it be treated and hauled away to an appropriate disposal site? No, the proposal calls for this material to be dredged to the surface to make islands and recreational spaces for people (e.g., multiuse trails, parks). Is this really where Jacksonians and visitors will want to spend their time? Not me.
The One Lake Project won’t be the bright, blue lake that has been depicted in images by One Lake proponents, nor will it be a way to showcase Jackson. On the contrary, this will be One Trashy Lake.
Will Selman is an assistant professor of biology at Millsaps College.