Infestation of giant salvinia wreaks havoc on residents and businesses at reservoir

“Hallelujah” and “Amen” rang out when Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks biologist Ryan Jones shared with the task force that they have not found green plant material from giant salvinia in the last infested area at the Barnett Reservoir.

However, those expressions of joy were short lived, as frustrations grew over measures being taken to eradicate the invasive plant.

“We just got back from the last infested area we were working on, and we were not able to identify any green plant material in that area,” Jones said.

Floodwaters back in January spread plant material. Jones said they contained and sprayed every area where it was found.

“Some of that scattered from that eight inches of rain,” Jones said. “The problem is that when we got that high water, it was moving through areas where we didn’t have any booms. So, I can’t 100 percent guarantee that it was contained.”

Jones recommended that the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District (PRVWSD) board vote to keep the water level low throughout the summer months to allow the heat to continue to kill what is left of the plant in the reservoir.

“We were relying on cold temperatures in Mississippi, but that’s a bad idea to rely on 20 degrees for a couple of days,” Jones said. “What we can rely on is 100 degrees. We can put 100 degrees on it and dry it out.”

The low lake level will help kill the plant. However, it is affecting those who live on, work at and visit Pelahatchie Bay.

“That’s going to be a serious issue for recreation, I would imagine,” Jones said of keeping the lake level low.

Herbert Smith, a fisherman at the reservoir, came to the task force meeting to express his frustrations with missing fishing season this year.

“I can only fish on the weekends because I work,” he said. “I want to get that boat wet on the bottom.”

Roy and Brenda Herrington, owners of the Pelahatchie Bay Trading Post, expressed how the closure of Pelahatchie Bay has affected their business since October 2018.

Roy said they have lost out on more than $300,000 because of the closures.

“I got a gas pump on the water that did half a million dollars last year, and it’s sold zero this year,” he said. “And y’all act like there’s no crisis. This is crisis.”

One of his main concerns was that although they discussed opening up the ramp near the Pelahatchie Trading Post, the fishing areas that reservoir boaters use the ramp to get to are closed off to the public because of salvinia.

“There isn’t anywhere to fish,” he said. “Where they fish is blocked off.”

Specialists from Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks recommended slowly reopening the ramps, but not removing the booms closing off possibly infected areas or opening access through the causeway.

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