The Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, the state agency that oversees and operates 33,000-acre Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson, has changed its operating plan for winter and will begin Dec. 1 lowering the lake to 296.0 feet above sea level.
Since 2012, the operation plan called for the lake to be maintained at 297.5 all year. Before 2012, the lake was always lowered to 296 in late fall through spring.
“The staff suggested this change to the Board of Directors, who then approved it at the September meeting,” said John Sigmon, PRVWSD’s general manager. “We feel it is the right move from both a flood control and weed management standpoints.
“We learned last spring the importance of having a lower level when we had a flood event in February. Because our level was low to help us combat the giant salvinia (invasive vegetation) in the Pelahatchie Bay area, when we were hit hard with rain and experienced the second highest inflow into the lake, we were able to mitigate flooding downstream, saving thousands of homes in Jackson and other areas from getting water. Some houses unfortunately did get water, but many, many more would have.”
In February, the lake level before the heavy rain event that fell throughout the Pearl River basin north of Barnett was 296 at the recommendation of the Giant Salvinia Task Force, which includes representatives of other agencies. PRVWSD was able to reduce the level of the lake to create storage space and then use that space to store water and delay the flood impact once the lake’s capacity was filled.
The winter months
After opening the gates to relieve pressure on the dam, Sigman said the agency worked with other groups, including national weather agencies and river forecast centers, to walk-down the reduction and lessen the flood impact.
“After seeing that, we felt it was wise to lower the lake, but only during the three winter months,” Sigman said. “It will be not only helpful in handling high-water events but also with our vegetation-control efforts. The task force was preparing to ask us to lower the water this winter when we took the request to the Board of Directors.”
Veteran Barnett fishermen are experienced with dealing with the lower levels, having dealt with the issue for three decades after the 1983 flood.
“I’m kind of happy about it, because the lower levels back then I think were partly responsible for an improved bass fishery,” said Bill Blocker of Brandon. “I was a bass fisherman back then, and we saw the fish come back over that period. It also made for more catches, at least for me, because there was less water to fish.
“Now I only crappie fish, and I’m unsure if it will impact crappie as much as it did the bass. Crappie stay deeper during that period, so it will unlikely to affect them as much. Won’t matter that much to me, because I’ve never been able to catch them good that time of year. Heck, maybe it will help.”
JOIN THE CLUB, get unlimited access for $2.99/month
Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Mississippi Sportsman Magazine and MS-Sportsman.com.