Miss. Pours out reservoir water to fight fish kill
NEW ORLEANS - Trying to fight a huge fish kill in the Pearl River, authorities in Mississippi have temporarily increased discharges from the Ross Barnett Reservoir.
The action late Tuesday by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District was designed to increase fresh water in the river, dilute pollutants and increase the oxygen level in river water.
Last week, a black substance entered the river near the Temple-Inland Inc. paper plant at Bogalusa, La., and hundreds of thousands of fish have died. But officials haven't determined the exact source of the pollution. Louisiana environmental officials said the mill reported a problem last week at its wastewater plant.
The mill remained closed Wednesday as authorities awaited the results of water testing.
On Wednesday, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation said at least some pollution had entered the lake. The foundation said that on Tuesday, a 10-mile long line of white foam stretched from Rigolets Pass to Bayou Banfouca, scattering dead catfish. However, the foundation said oxygen levels in the lake appeared normal.
"It is likely the foam and dead fish were carried by tides in normal lake water and may not indicate that significant polluted water has entered Lake Pontchartrain," the foundation said in a statement.
Scientists said the fish kill was likely due to a resulting lack of water oxygen stemming from the pollution.
It likely will take several days for the additional discharge at the Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson to reach the affected area of the river, said Trudy Fisher, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
The reservoir was created by impounding the Pearl River between Madison and Rankin counties in Mississippi. It was completed in 1965 and has since become a popular place for boating, sailing, camping and fishing.
John Sigman, the water supply district's general manager, said the increased discharges would have little effect on the reservoir, other than a slight decrease in the water level.
"We will return to normal discharge rates after we are able to determine the effects on the lower Pearl River," Sigman said.
As of Wednesday, the Mississippi DEQ said the kill stretched 35 miles to 40 miles along the river from Bogalusa to the Mississippi Sound. The agency said that the kill numbered hundreds of thousands of fish and mussels and has endangered species such as the Gulf Sturgeon, Ringed Sawback Turtles and an endangered mussel.
St. Tammany Parish said last Tuesday it was planning to declare a state of emergency and request state assistance for the affected area. Parish officials said drinking water supplies head not been affected.
Health authorities have told people to avoid the river and not eat fish from the river from between Bogalusa and Poplarville, Miss., southwards to around Slidell.