Across the country, at a rate of about 40 a year, communities are tearing down old dams because of safety and environmental concerns and enormously expensive maintenance costs. Yet, this trend hasn’t reached George County, Mississippi, where the Board of Supervisors and others have been actively promoting the creation of a new 3,500 acre reservoir. Although the details are still hazy, it is clear that building this fake lake would involve damming one of three tributaries to the Pascagoula River. The Pascagoula is the last free flowing river of its size in the lower 48 contiguous states and its status has been widely celebrated. A 3,500 acre lake and dam on a tributary in George County would alter water flows for the Pascagoula, inundate significant quantities of wetlands, and would reduce habitat for the threatened Gopher tortoise.
To add insult to injury, supporters of this fake lake idea are clearly misleading the public and local business leaders about the rationale behind the project. They are pushing the idea under the banner of future water supply for industry and economic development for southeast Mississippi. Yet, coast business leaders already have a contract with the existing Okatibbee Reservoir upstream to provide water in times of drought! Building an expensive reservoir won’t make a difference for industry on the coast, so what’s the real rationale? Nowhere in their promotional materials do they mention real estate development in conjunction with the lake, but everyone knows that such a lake would also play that role. This lake is a Trojan horse – with the apparent outward practical purpose of augmenting water supply, but carrying real estate brokers inside.
Proponents are already working hard to lobby Congress for the $50,000,000 needed to build this pork barrel project. The price tag, and these other issues, should make this a difficult lake to complete, and with federal taxpayer funds come accompanying environmental requirements including a full environmental impact statement, endangered species reviews, and wetland and stream mitigation. GRN will continue to monitor the process and keep you informed of how you can help protect the Pascagoula.
Andrew is GRN's Assistant Director of Science and Water Policy.