Reservoir District Bill Back Door to Flood Control? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Reservoir District Bill Back Door to Flood Control?

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Sen. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon, submitted a bill that could reinterpret the use of the Barnette reservoir for flood control.

Control of the Ross Barnett Reservoir is at stake in a bill proposed this week by Sen. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon, that is raising questions over what it really aims to do -- and whether it could be a back-door way to help the Two Lakes river-development plan still see the light of day.

Senate Bill 2936 is"[a]n act to limit the powers of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District to the basic purposes for which it created: to preserve, store, conserve and control waters of the pearl river for domestic municipal, commercial, industrial, agricultural and manufacturing purposes," the bill begins.

The bill is a toned-down version of a goal to "end" the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, which Yancey described to The Clarion-Ledger in a Jan. 17 article. Yancey, after revising his initial goal to now merely "limit" the district's powers, told the Jackson Free Press this week that he wanted more local control of the district, with some members being elected instead of the usual appointment process for board members. He also wants the district to surrender land it owns for eventual private ownership.

The bill would provide for the transfer of lands belonging to the district to the counties in which the land lies. The counties, thereafter, could arrange for the sale of the land to individual homeowners. Homeowners currently may only lease district land upon which they've built homes-many of them high-end structures worth $300,000 or more.

Yancey's language also transfers some powers, including for law enforcement on the waters in the district, to the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

Critics of the Two Lakes development proposal for the Pearl River point out that the original-intent language of Yancey's bill could open the prospect of accepting Two Lakes promoter John McGowan's contention that the reservoir could be used for flood control-because "to aid in flood control" was included in the original "responsibilities" when the district was created.

The success of the Two Lakes plan to dam the Pearl River and create a massive lake with numerous islands has long been dependent upon the willingness of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District to adjust dam output to control the amount of floodwater barreling into the proposed lake. The district is currently only willing to contain an extra four feet of water in the event of a flood similar to the 1979 Easter flood that inundated a huge portion of downtown Jackson and portions of Rankin County.

However, the enabling act for the Pearl River Water Supply District states that the reservoir should be used as flood control as well as a water supply. State law spells out that the District is empowered to "prevent or aid in the prevention of damage to person or property from the waters of the Pearl River or any of its tributaries." A return to the district's "purpose for which it was created" as envisioned in the Yancey bill could pave the way for a district more keen toward flood control-especially that envisioned by McGowan, who has long seethed that the District and the Corps disagreed with him that the reservoir could be used in conjunction with his Two Lakes plan.

"Information reports" distributed by the Two Lakes for Mississippi Foundation (pdf), apparently in 2007, and still available as PDFs on the Internet, charged that the district persistently failed to respect the flood-control aspect of its mandate, which was key to the eventual success of Two Lakes or other flood-control plans.

"The idea that the Reservoir cannot be used for any flood control is a common misconception in communities along the Pearl River," one of the reports focusing on the district stated. "Even though the Reservoir cannot rise and fall 20-30 feet like Lake Enid and Sardis, allowing just a few feet of rise in the reservoir would save hundreds of homes."

The report blasts Pearl River Valley Water Supply District General Manager Benny French by name, as well as several representatives of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, for not following the original flood-control intent. "Their legislators voted to build the Reservoir in 1961, and the enabling act for the Reservoir clearly stated that the Reservoir was to be used for flood control, recreation and water supply," it stated.

French stands by the decision that the reservoir cannot be used in the way that McGowan envisions. He says that the reservoir's mechanical limitations, discovered after the original language was written, will diffuse any attempt to alter the district's current practices on flood control.

"Legislators did the bill first, but then they went about designing the project, and when they got into the design they realized that they could not build a flood-control dam at this location," French said. He explained that the average depth of the reservoir is only about 10 feet, severely reducing its volume capacity for floodwater.

"The limitations of the reservoir haven't changed," he added.

French said he did not think Yancey's bill would ultimately remodel the Ross Barnett Reservoir into a flood-control device, regardless.

"This bill would not impact the legislation that created the district," French told the Jackson Free Press. "The legislation gave this district the authority to deal with flood control, but things changed during the Reservoir's design phase. I don't know their full motivation for the bill, but I don't think they weren't even thinking about flood control when they submitted this bill."

Indeed, the large number of high-end homes popping up around the reservoir since the 1970s presents a major obstacle for those wanting the reservoir to be used for flood control. Wealthy Madison and Rankin County residents with a boat garage floating over the reservoir are not so willing to see the water level rise more than five feet. Likewise, Reservoir residents would not take well to the water level dropping away from their boat in preparation for a major influx of floodwater.

"There are quite a few people in Madison and Brandon who would be upset by that," said Rep. Rita Martinson, R-Madison. "A three-to-four feet change in the water level seem to be about all they can tolerate. Any more than that in either direction, and they really complain about it. They've got boats and things that would really be affected."

Yancey said this week that McGowan and his lakes plan had no influence in the bill he submitted. But, "they need to do something down there about flood control," he said, referring to the flood-prone area south of the dam.

Research by Donna Ladd. Read more about Pearl River flooding options here.

Previous Comments

ID
155341
Comment

Pearl River Water Supply District name says it all. We need surface water resources here (proper pipes 2 distribute 2). I would like 2 c a moratorium on building on the rez 2 insure water quality. All the remainder of the rez land should remain wooded. Rez officials have no idea of the capacity. They have no document or mapping of water depth. Just historical data on outflows.

Author
Aeroscout
Date
2010-01-22T09:47:13-06:00
ID
155344
Comment

I'm sure it's the third rail of Rez politics, but exactly how much motor-boating should be have on a water supply lake?

Author
Todd Stauffer
Date
2010-01-22T10:58:28-06:00
ID
155347
Comment

Someone just e-mailed this link to a Bobby Cleveland blog post. Clearly, he's against Yancey's bill, and it's also interesting that he seems puzzled as to what's really behind the bill: First, the bill would turn over the maintenance of the dam to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. That would be the last thing MDWFP would ever want. They have enough on their plate maintaining aging dams at its state parks and state lakes. They have neither the resources nor the manpower to take on the Rez dam. Since the bill would end the lease system that is basically the only source of revenue for the reservoir, there is simply no way to fund maintenance of the dam, boat ramps and other facilities. Yancey suggests that leaseholders, those folks like me who live at Barnett Reservoir, feel like we have no representation. Nobody asked me. I have no such concerns and would argue that the loss of the Reservoir Patrol and Fire Department would end some of the most valuable representation that we have. We pay for it. Nobody else does. And there’s this, which should interest all users of Barnett Reservoir. If the reservoir board is dissolved and the lease revenue is lost, do you think the five counties or the state, all cash starved as can be, are going to step up and maintain the boat ramps, parks, roads … No, of course not.[...] To think that all of this arises over opposition to apartments, which the Reservoir Board voted not to allow anyway, is ridiculous. There’s got to be something else, like maybe some two-year-old bad feelings that still linger from the proposed user fee for boaters that the Reservoir Board had legal right to impose to help fund recreational maintenance. If you remember, the fees were already being collected and boat decals being mailed when the legislature stepped in and stopped the program and took away the Board’s right to impose fees THAT DO NO’T ORIGINATE IN THE LEGISLATURE.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-22T12:45:21-06:00
ID
155348
Comment

This story that Adam Lynch published two weeks ago about Lakes/Levees battle, also addressed the way the District is run and indicated that if it changed, the mayor of Monticello might drop his very strong opposition to Two Lakes. Here's the relative portion: But residents outside Jackson are prepped to battle any lake plan, including Monticello Mayor Dave Nichols. "I'm not trying to make enemies. I'm only looking out for my city," Nichols said. "The study says this: The way the reservoir is currently operated, with Two Lakes, Monticello and Marion County could receive up to two more inches of water in an Easter Flood like the 1979 event. That's two more inches that we don't need. The reservoir operators aren't changing the way they operate, so I have to stand against this. If the reservoir folks turn around and say they'll operate the way McGowan wants them to, then I'll be all for it." McGowan's plan relies on the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District altering its operating model for the Spillway dam from a structure intended to provide drinking water to a structure for providing flood control. The district holds a contract to deliver the necessary water over the dam for processing at the Curtis water treatment plant, and the Savannah Street waste water-treatment plant in Jackson. The contract does not include altering the volume of flow to protect the territory south of the dam from flooding. Benny French, general manager of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, said the district had to work within tight rules, adding that the original design of the Spillway did not include flood control. Within a week, Yancey said he was wanted the District cut and then introduced a bill to "limit" the district's powers. It may be a conincidence, of course, but it should not be one of those legislative tricks that get snuck by the citizens if it's not. It is funny to see how many people along the reservoir are shocked by the bill. It could be that Sen. Yancey didn't think it through.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-22T12:52:21-06:00
ID
155349
Comment

Donna, I think the Pearl River Valley main office would have the maps to tell you how deep a spot is. If I understand right, the average depth is only about 10 feet or so, with the "Main Channel", being the old Pearl Riverbed being near 50. When they mention a number on the forecast (currently 296.17), that's gauge height, or the distance above sea level. It alternates about a foot or two normally. Yeah, I like geology. :)

Author
Ironghost
Date
2010-01-22T13:34:07-06:00
ID
155351
Comment

Adam has talked to them, Iron. He has more coming out on this, probably in the print edition next week. Anybody with info for him, write: adam (at) jacksonfreepress (dot) com

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-22T13:37:00-06:00
ID
155353
Comment

Oh, okay.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2010-01-22T14:08:38-06:00
ID
155355
Comment

Iron, I didn't mean to sound dismissive. We value your help on this, as well as others. I know you're casting a critical eye on this as many of us are doing.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-22T14:25:49-06:00
ID
155357
Comment

It's cool. :)

Author
Ironghost
Date
2010-01-22T15:05:28-06:00
ID
155366
Comment

I have the 1996 map done by FHS which gives the average depth as 11 feet. Have they undertaken a new survey of the rez or they just estimating? The natural life of a reservoir is 100 years so we r half done on Ross Barnett. Basically they fill up with silt and sand and it reduces the capacity. I worry about a severe drought like Austin or Atlanta had and how that might impact the rez. If we had our rainfall cut in half over two or three years, it might cut the overall footprint of the rez by a third. Folks might abandon their leases and the boating revenue would dry up as well. The City of Jackson would hopefully have a few water wells.

Author
Aeroscout
Date
2010-01-22T22:20:22-06:00

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