By Ben Smith:
I love fishing, boating, or swimming in the Pearl River as much as anyone. Ever since I was a young kid, I can remember going there with my uncle to run trot lines and camp out. Some of my favorite memories of camping out on sandbars are from the Pearl. Some of my least favorite memories of camping out on sandbars are from there, too. Over the years, I’ve caught plenty of fish, stoked many a fire, and lost plenty of blood along the banks of this river. It was also the first river that I took my children camping on…something that I’ll never forget. However, recently I’m disgusted by what is happening to one of my favorite places on Earth.
Let’s be honest for a second. Jackson, Mississippi, home of our state capital, is an absolute dump. Anyone that thinks differently has their head buried in the sand or is too afraid of being labeled politically incorrect. First, there was the water crisis in Jackson…something that is still not totally repaired. Next, there is the garbage pickup crisis that is currently ongoing. And we need not forget the crime. Visiting Jackson these days should only be done by adrenaline junkies looking for a natural high. Hank Williams Jr. wrote in his famous song, “Country Boy Can Survive” that “you’re gonna get mugged if you go downtown”. I’m not sure whether, or not, he was talking about Jackson, but the shoe certainly fits. And if you’re fortunate enough not to run into confrontation, the odds are high that you’ll have something stolen from your vehicle…if your vehicle wasn’t stolen entirely.
Like most places, and most incidents, crap usually rolls downhill…literally. When Jackson fails to fix its problems, the rest of Mississippi suffers. In this case, let’s talk about the Pearl River. Beginning in Neshoba County, the Pearl slithers its way 444 miles through Mississippi and Louisiana before dumping into Lake Borgne in the Louisiana marshland. As far as mileage actually in Mississippi, it’s second only to the Mississippi River. The Pearl is important to all sorts of wildlife ranging from whitetail deer, black bears, and alligators. The river runs through many towns on its journey to the Gulf of Mexico…including Jackson. This is where our problem begins.
After the Pearl runs through the Ross Barnett Reservoir, it continues through the city of Jackson…or Jackghanistan (whichever you prefer). By the time it makes its way south of Jackson to Byram, the water could take the paint off of an aluminum boat. One with any “walking around sense” wouldn’t dare swim in the polluted waters of the Pearl just south of Jackson. Like me, I’m quite sure that fishing is a way of life for a lot of people in this area but eating fish from this area of the river might be akin to playing “Russian Roulette”. It might not kill you at first, but sooner or later you’re going to suffer.
According to a recent court filing, there has been 4.7 billion gallons of untreated, or partially treated, wastewater dumped in the Pearl River since March 2020 via the city of Jackson. Yes, you read that correctly…4.7 BILLION. And yes, you also read that correctly…the city of Jackson. I was just as shocked as you when I first read that news. But wait, there’s more! This didn’t just begin in 2020 where the city of Jackson can blame Covid like they blame Covid for every one of their shortcomings. In 2012, the EPA and the MDEQ gave Jackson up to 18 years to fix its sewage issues regarding the Pearl, requiring most to be repaired in 11 years. The majority of these repairs have not been made, and Jackson continues to pollute the river and punish those south of the city.
The big question regarding the river remains…is it safe? The answer to that question is that it largely depends on where you are. The river was so badly polluted in 2020 that the MDEQ issued a contact advisory for recreational activities involving the river and waterways connected to it. There may not currently be an advisory, but there’s still sewage flowing from the cesspool to the north, so I’d be leery about venturing into the water around there. As far as how the river is in the southern part of the state, I’ll say that I’ve fished and swam in the river since 2020 with no known diseases contracted. However, with the information that I have at hand now, I’ll probably avoid swimming in the river, or eating anything from the river, anywhere further north of Georgetown. Something about wading around in 4.7 billion gallons of feces from Jackson just makes the hair on my neck stand up and my stomach churn a little.
So, what’s the purpose of this article? For one, it was pretty eye opening for me to read just how poor of a job our state is doing to protect our citizens and our environment. I don’t know who the blame falls on, but I know that person should be relieved of their leadership position. Secondly, it’s to remind you that conservation is a must. Whether its deer, turkey, alligators, or our rivers, we must do our part to ensure that future generations get the opportunity to experience God’s creation. I’m no tree hugging hippie by any stretch, but I’m smart enough to know that if we don’t take care of our environment that one day it will be gone. Hopefully, the new bill will address these issues and hold Jackson accountable for ruining our river because it’s obvious that Jackson just doesn’t care.