It’s a stinky situation. Jackson’s failing infrastructure and overflows have been pouring millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Pearl River for years and the health risks involved — and the smell — are affecting those who care about the river the most.
Wesley McMurrin of Pearl said he enjoys kayaking on the Pearl River near Jackson because it’s convenient, but the sewage issue limits his fun. One of the things he enjoys doing is exploring creeks that feed into the river when water levels allow, but will not return to some.
“I kayaked up Purple Creek and man, it smelled so bad,” McMurrin said. “Since it stank so bad, I haven’t been back.
“The pipes are damaged. No one is taking care of the pipes. I go up all the creeks and they smell. It just shows when we do have money, it doesn’t go into the city (infra)structure.”
Although he avoids creeks flowing through Jackson and into the Pearl River, he still paddles in the river, but that’s the most contact he has with the water.
“I sure don’t jump in the water,” McMurrin said. “I see people swimming, but they’re the younger generation; mostly 16 to 20 years old. They don’t watch the news.”
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50 million gallons of raw sewage released in Jackson
The latest news about the situation came from the City of Jackson’s quarterly report on sewage discharges that was prepared for the Environmental Protection Agency.
According to the report, from April to June more than 50 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into Jackson-area waterways. Nearly 20 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into Town Creek, which flows into the river.
Reports of sewage flowing from Jackson into waterways are business as usual. Sewage and the E. coli bacteria it carries into the Pearl River have led to a water contact advisory from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for the river from Purple Creek in Jackson to the Swinging Bridge in Byram.
The water contact advisory basically states people should stay out of the water and don’t eat anything that comes out of it.
It has been in place for four years.
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Pearl River sewage too risky for kayak business
For Christopher Lockhart, owner of Capital City Kayak Adventures, which offers kayak rentals, the health risks have forced him to change his business.
“We used to put in at the (Ross Barnett Reservoir) spillway or we put in at Mayes Lake campground at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park,” Lockhart said. “That’s not one of our operating areas anymore.
“We haven’t put in there in about three years or so because of the contact advisory issued by MDEQ.”
Lockhart said he felt it would put his customers’ health at risk.
“I can’t put them out there in good conscience. We just can’t take those chances.”
Lockhart is fortunate in that Crystal Lake, located in Rankin County across the river from Jackson, is unaffected by the sewage and offers a scenic and safe place for his customers to paddle.
Even so, he’d like for them to have the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate the river as well.
“It offered so much serene beauty,” Lockhart said. “It had such beautiful sandbars. It is such a beautiful resource.”
And it could be even more beautiful.
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Pearl River health risks impede cleanup efforts
Pearl Riverkeeper is a nonprofit with a mission of improving the health of the Pearl River. It hosts an event called the Pearl River Clean Sweep. Since 2017, volunteers have removed 140,000 pounds of trash from the watershed in Mississippi and Louisiana.
However, the health risks caused by Jackson’s sewage prevent volunteers from collecting trash during the event in the water contact advisory area.
“This is the fourth year of an MDEQ water contact advisory on that 20-mile section and its tributaries,” said Abby Braman, who heads Pearl Riverkeeper. “MDEQ believes that water is too contaminated for humans and fishing.
“MDEQ found aquatic life lacking in 11 creeks in Jackson. We can’t even go on it for the Pearl River Clean Sweep it’s so contaminated.”
When will Pearl River pollution end?
So, when does it end? When will Lockhart be able to share the river’s beauty with customers? When will Pearl Riverkeeper volunteers be able to improve the health of the river in that area? When will aquatic life return to the affected tributaries and the smell go away?
The answers to those questions and others seem to be unknown, but in a written statement from Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba to the Clarion Ledger, he said the city is trying to make improvements and residents deserve better.
“We continue to deal with major institutional challenges to our water and sewer systems and are aggressively seeking the resources to resolve these issues,” Lumumba wrote. “We know that recent federal support will help us address some of these matters and we are committed to numerous projects devoted to those ends.
“We continue to meet with the EPA on a weekly basis to abide by their consent decree placed on the city in 2012. They are intimately aware of the limitations the city has in addressing these matters, and are working with us to make sustainable upgrades and improvements.
“We are not where we want to be or choose to be with the system we inherited, but understand the frustration of residents who simply deserve a better system.”