The popular spillway fishing area below the Barnett Reservoir dam will be closed to recreation on Sept. 23-24 to accommodate a river-long clean up, the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District announced.

Operation Clean Sweep, a project spearheaded by Pearl River keeper Abby Braman, is an intensive water and shoreline trash removal effort that begins at the Pearl River headwaters near Philadelphia to the Gulf Coast, including both Mississippi and Louisiana. Hundreds of volunteers will be in kayaks, canoes and powerboats on the river and its many tributaries, plucking rubbish along the way.

Clean Sweep is a one-day clean up mission, but the spillway closure will be for two days, at least on the Rankin County side, which will serve as the collection point for garbage from the upper Pearl. 

PRVWSD’s efforts to keep the Spillway Recreation Area clean, with help from many volunteers, including Braman, led to the idea for the massive Clean Sweep.

“We are going to close the spillway area to fishing those two days because we felt it was unsafe to have people cleaning up at the same time people are fishing on the rocks,” said John Sigman, PRVWSD General Manager. “Plus, we are hoping that fishermen will join in the cleanup. Keeping the spillway area clean has long been a problem and recently it became a priority.”

Earlier this summer, the PRVWSD Board of Directors put teeth in the effort to clean the spillway by voting to close the area to the public if necessary. Years of fishing gear, worm boxes and drink cans have left the riprap banks not only an eyesore but unsafe. 

“We have been proud that so many volunteers, including the recently formed Spillway Fishermen’s Group, and Abby have stepped up to help,” Sigman said. “This is the kind of effort needed to bring attention to this wonderful recreation area and to help protect it.”

Access to both sides of the spillway will close at 4 a.m. on Saturday, except for Operation Clean Sweep volunteers and PRVWSD personnel.

Sigman said that the plan was to start the spillway cleaning early Saturday on the Madison County (north) side, and once completed, it could open to recreational users that afternoon.

“That’s the plan, but it will depend on how long it takes for volunteers to finish cleaning the rocks and the banks,” he said. “That is the priority for us during this operation.”

The Rankin County side will not reopen until all work is completed on Sunday.

“We will be bringing all the trash collected in the areas in the northern and central part of the river to the spillway parking area on the Rankin County side,” Sigman said. “After collecting it on Saturday, we will begin separating the recyclables and then deliver the rest to the disposed at landfills.”

For more information on Operation Clean Sweep, including becoming a volunteer participant, visit pearlriverkeeper.com.