‘One Lake’ still not best flood solution

By CHARLIE SMITH,

The recent flooding on the Pearl River at Jackson has given renewed energy to a project to build a lake in Jackson. Namely, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has publicly supported the “One Lake” proposal, which is a key piece of black, liberal support for a project that has mostly been promoted by white, conservative interests in the Jackson area.

While I’m sympathetic to Jacksonians who had their homes flooded, I’m still not sure that the “One Lake” project would do much good in preventing that from happening, and it could hurt places downstream like Columbia.

An interesting report in that regard came from Chris Wells, interim executive director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, to the Conservation and Water Resources Committee in the Mississippi House. Wells’ letter answered a question from State Rep. Ken Morgan, R-Morgantown, about the number of times Jackson has flooded before and after the construction of the Ross Barnett Reservoir in 1965. He said he had information going back to the 1800s from the National Weather Service and that it shows the Pearl River has exceeded flood stage (28 feet) 104 times and 39 were before the Reservoir was built.

“In other words, 39.5% of the crests above flood stage occurred before the Reservoir, levees and interstates; 62.5% of crests above the 28-foot flood stage have occurred after the construction of the Reservoir, levees and interstates.”

Wells provides some caveats: the Reservoir was built for water supply, not flood control, and other factors have changed its flow: levee systems on the Rankin and Hinds sides of the river; channelization in the 1960s; interstates in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s; and increased development.

Yet the fact remains: The Pearl has flooded Jackson more with the Reservoir than without. So a lake doesn’t necessarily solve river flooding problems.

And in the case of “One Lake,” it’s proposed to be far smaller than the Reservoir: 1,500 acres versus more than 33,000 acres. You’ve got to think a lake that small is going to have a minimal impact on how much water it can hold during a flood.

And there’s another option besides building a lake that involves moving the existing levees back. That would give the river more room to expand when it gets high and would be a far simpler and more effective plan to control flooding than a lake.

So why build a lake?

The motivation has always been to create some riverfront property in downtown Jackson as a way to spur development in the capital city. I certainly don’t have any problem with anyone making money — this is America after all and Bernie Sanders isn’t our president — and I believe Mississippi needs a strong Jackson, which it clearly doesn’t have right now, for the whole state to be successful. I’m not an extremist: I’m not dead-set opposed to the project regardless of the facts. If they can show that it won’t cause problems downstream for places like Columbia, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

Yet many people downstream have legitimate concerns about the attempts to push the project through without due consideration of the potential impacts. The public comment sessions held a while back were a farce as attendees were not allowed to speak but had to submit written statements. Clearly the powers that be did not want the chance that any persuasion against the project would take place. That confirmed the impression that the hearings were just a show and that the real decision had already been made.

And the fact that the lake has been sold as flood control, when levees would clearly be superior for controlling flooding, is unseemly. If you want a lake to spark Jackson’s economy, be upfront about it, and let the public decide what’s best. Folks in Columbia and Marion County have a right to have their interests represented in the “One Lake” discussion and should not be swept away by a “flood” of political and business interests from Jackson.

Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him via email at csmith@columbianprogress.com or call (601) 736-2611.

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