Officials at Barnett Reservoir are anxiously awaiting the spring “green-up” in Pelahatchie Bay, where the battle against the invasive plant giant salvinia continues. That’s when they’ll find out how successful they were in destroying the dangerous threat.
“We know we’ve eliminated at least 80 percent of the giant salvinia,” said biologist Ryan Jones of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, who has overseen the eradication efforts. “We have hit the stuff hard, very hard, with chemicals since August, and you can tell it, too, because a lot of it is just gone. It’s no longer there. And the remaining salvinia looks poor; we’ve definitely hurt it. But is it dead, or is it dormant because of the winter?
“It’s to the point now where we need for the spring green-up so we can see how much comes back. That’s how we will know for sure. It’s difficult to predict, and there’s a lot riding on it.”
Reservoir officials closed the entire Pelahatchie Bay area to boating in November. Even residents of the shoreline had to keep their boats docked or on a trailer during that time.
“For the most part, our residents and our users have been understanding, and we want to get them back on the water enjoying our great lake,” said John Sigman, general manager of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, the state agency that oversees the 33,000-acre lake near Jackson. “We know how important Pelahatchie Bay is in the spring, and how a lot of local businesses are built around fishing and recreation on the lake.
“But we’ve got a lot of time and money invested in this effort to kill giant salvinia, and aquatic vegetation specialists have told us this will be our only chance to completely kill it and eradicate it from Barnett Reservoir. We’ve committed a lot of resources to it, and we need to stay the course and see if we can eradicate it.”
PRVWSD has spent more than $100,000 in the salvinia battle, with another $60,000 already committed to the purchase of boat cleaning stations. A controlled burn in one area that is considered a nursery for the plant was scheduled for mid-February, which should accomplish two goals: clearing the remains other dead plant species as well as destroying a big concentration of the remaining salvinia.
The lake level was held about 2 feet below normal throughout the winter to keep the salvinia high and dry and to expose it to freezing temperatures. A native of the Amazon region of Brazil, the plant has no tolerance to freezing weather.
Sigman said PRVWSD and MDWFP began discussions in January on the parameters of a plan to begin reopening the bay to boaters.
“There was nothing concrete established,” he said. “We just wanted to get the conservation started. A lot of what we will be able to do will be dictated by what we find after the green-up. It could end up as a total reopening or keeping it closed, but most likely it will be a partial reopening of some type, probably in late March or early April.”