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Wilson Slough: Diversion gone bad

While the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood & Drainage Control District’s proposed One Lake Project is focused on a new 1,500 acre lake on the Pearl River near the south end of the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Jackson, there are problems downstream that have yet to be solved, and thus will possibly get worse if One Lake becomes a reality.

One of the problems down river is the diversion at Wilson Slough, which since being approved in 1997 and constructed in the years shortly after. The purpose of the project was to correct the flow of the East Pearl River at Wilson Slough to a 50/50 split of the water flow.

So how did it get to the point the Corps needed to do something? By its own assertion in a report in 1995, the Corps states that flow measurements taken in the late 1970's indicated 40 to 50 percent of the flow in the Pearl River was continuing down the Pearl River past Wilson Slough during low-flow conditions.

By the late 1980's, Wilson Slough was capturing approximately 75 percent of the low flow in the Pearl River. Despite the efforts of many local people in the area to get governmental authorities to do something, the situation only got worse.

Prior to that finding of 75 percent flow to Louisiana, Mansfield Downs and M.O. Pigott, both pioneers of the original Pearl River, tried to get the federal government to take action to restore the flow of Pearl River back to its original path which is now known as East Pearl River, the border between Louisiana and Mississippi. Records show that in the 1950s and 1960s, Downs and Pigott were predicting what has become a reality today; the river flow is being obstructed upstream and rerouted. They also noted that the lower Pearl River (eastern tributary) was in danger of becoming nothing more than a ditch below Walkiah.

A public hearing was held in October, 1996, and at that meeting Jimmy Palmer, with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality gave credit to Downs and Pigott.

“The reason we have this opportunity, folks, in the last analysis, is just because, to be real honest with you, you would not quit. Mansfield didn't, and M. O. hasn't, and I'll just stop there because you could go on and on and on. You simply would not quit. That has caused your Senators and Representatives in Jackson to stay in there to do things that they needed to do that has caused your Senators and Representatives in Washington to fight the fight. Now, we have a chance.”

The Corps of Engineers plan stated “The weir at Wilson Slough will include an earthen (primarily sand and gravel) closure, both capped with graded riprap stone. A sheet pile cutoff will be used to control seepage. The weir will be constructed near the left descending bank in Wilson Slough. Riprap will be placed 50 feet upstream and 100 feet downstream of the weir centerline. The crest elevation of the closure portion of the weir is 42 feet.”

Today, if you observe the area at Wilson Slough, one cannot ride away with any thoughts that the diversion or shall it be said ‘division of water”, which was meant to be 50/50 of water flow to Louisiana / Mississippi, is anywhere near that project goal. There-in lies the problem for the area around Walkiah in spite of the Corps of Engineers work at Wilson Slough. What you will find today is an area that makes for a great training ground for military personnel to use the rapids, but not a successful diversion of water toward what is referred to as East Pearl.

Jeremy Magri, who practically grew up on the Pearl River at Walkiah, says the river is a dangerous place to maneuver. Magri, the Assistant Police Chief in Picayune, knows all too well about danger, particularly on the water.

“I cringe every time I see someone come out here that’s not familiar with the situation for fear they are going to hit something due to trash (trees and logs) in the river and the fluctuation of the water depth. It’s scary to watch, and unless you’ve been out here like myself and others for practically your whole life and learned the do’s and dont’s, the river can be a dangerous place. It doesn’t have to be that way, but with the neglect that’s occurred for decades, that’s what we have to deal with now,” Magri shared after a day on the river.

River stage at 14 feet

River stage at 8 feet

Magri points out the many things that seemed to have gone wrong with the diversion attempt by the Corps at Wilson Slough, not with a finger of blame, but with a concern for preservation of a life style so many have had, but now face the danger of losing.

“Let’s face it. The water is doing about an 80/20 or 85/15 split right now. Just look at it. It’s right there for the naked eye to see. This causes problems downstream like sediment buildup and sandbars that span bank to bank, causing hazards to navigation,“ Magri stated with a look of frustration and concern as he looked over his shoulder at Wilson Slough.

“It’s gotten so bad, we’ve had to go together and build our own boat launches north of Wilson Slough to be able to launch our boats because when the river gets down to levels near 8 feet in Bogalusa, the launch is inaccessible because of the lack of water flow,” he added.

“I grew up running up and down the river with my Daddy who one of the original ‘river rats’ and it’s in my blood. I’m afraid the good ol’ days of fishing, camping, swimming, and spending a day on a sand bar may come to an end unless something is done real soon.”

Tomorrow, we will go up river to another problem…the log jam.


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