The Pearl River winds 490-miles south from its headwaters in central Mississippi, past the state capital of Jackson, along the border with Louisiana, and eventually empties into Mississippi Sound, Lake Borgne, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Recognized as one of the most intact river systems in the southeast U.S., the Pearl supports a vast diversity of birds, fish and wildlife, and their habitats. The river is popular for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation, and is an important source of water for communities and industry. The Pearl also packs a big economic punch, supporting major pillars of the state’s economy—seafood and nature-based tourism sectors—while serving as a training ground for U.S. Navy SEALs.
But today the Pearl River, its birds and wildlife, nearby communities, and the region’s economy are in peril.
After a devastating 1,000-year flood in 1979, several plans to control flooding from the Pearl River were introduced for the Jackson area. The latest proposal known as “One Lake” includes dredging and widening 10-miles of the Pearl River, and building a dam to create a 1,900-acre lake. Originally proposed in 1996 by a local businessman, the project would include provisions to develop an urban waterfront along with questionable flood control benefits.
“One Lake” will destroy over 2,500 acres of important habitat that supports Bald Eagles, Barred Owls, and songbirds, as well as fish and other wildlife. The proposal will eliminate or alter critical habitat for several federally threatened species like the Wood Stork, Gulf Sturgeon, Ringed Sawback turtle, and Northern Long-eared bat.
As the Gulf of Mexico’s fourth largest source of freshwater east of the Mississippi River, the Pearl River is a key artery to sustain the health and productivity of Mississippi Sound, Lake Borgne, and the Gulf. Reductions to downstream flows from the dam would jeopardize water quality, the regional seafood industry, and multi-million dollar projects working to restore coastal Mississippi and Louisiana from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
Over 200 miles of river flow south below the proposed dam, so changes in flow threaten downstream habitats and conservation lands, such as the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge and the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, as well as important stopover habitat for Neotropical migratory birds.