The Barnett Reservoir and the surrounding area with its 33,000 acres of water and 17,000 acres of forest is more than a place to go for boating and camping.
Many people rely on the reservoir as a source of water, while others call the surrounding areas home or have started businesses there. Approximately 2.5 million people visit the area annually to enjoy one of the 48 recreational facilities, from campgrounds to trails to boat launches.
With all of that going on around one body of water spanning five counties, one might wonder, “Who is in charge of what?”
To cover all of the moving parts at the reservoir there are several organizations in place.
There is a board of directors, which serves as the governing body and establishes rules and regulations; a police department to ensure safety and uphold those rules; a parks and recreation department to oversee facilities and campgrounds; and various administrative roles.
The Barnett Reservoir Foundation, a non-profit organization, was founded to raise funds for projects “to enhance and improve the quality of life for residents and provide recreational opportunities for visitors.”
So, the Sun has set out to spotlight each of these departments and organizations and take a look at what their roles are in reservoir operations, beginning with the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District (PRVWSD), which encompasses everything listed above.
The PRVWSD was established by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District Act of 1958 to manage the Barnett Reservoir.
“We are a full-fledged state agency, and our mission is to manage the Barnett Reservoir. Missions within that include water supply and recreation,” said General Manager John Sigman.
“We serve as the water supply for the city of Jackson, and we provide recreational activities for anyone who wants to come out here and enjoy the 33,000 acres of water and the 17,000 acres of forest.”
According to Sigman, the district is a special fund agency, which means they receive no appropriation from the state general fund or tax revenue.
Their budget is funded through the following revenue sources: rent on property from the 6,200 annual residential and commercial lease fees; occasional timber sales; and income from water and sewer, which services four different sewer systems with 5,200 customers.
The district is governed by a 14-member board of directors.
Five board members are appointed by the governor from each of the five counties, including Madison, Rankin, Hinds, Scott and Leake. Five board members are appointed by each of the five counties by their board of supervisors.
The remaining four positions are appointed by state agencies, including the Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Mississippi Forestry Commission and Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Currently, Jennifer Hall serves as the board president. Hall was appointed by the governor to represent Rankin County.
“The board makes all the rules,” Sigman said. “They decide the policy.”
The law requires that eight of the 14 board members live on reservoir property with a residential lease.
“We’ve been fortunate to have board members that have areas of expertise that have come really into great use,” Sigman said of their diverse backgrounds.
For example, appointments from the forestry commission give the board a technical expert in forestry matters, such as planting and managing forests.
Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks often provides a fisheries biologist or a wildlife management specialist.
Sigman said they also select the general manager, which is a role he has held for 10 years.
“I spend most of my time answering questions,” Sigman joked, as he said much of his role includes working with county officials, leaseholders, media and more.
He also supervises district staff, which currently includes 121 positions.
“I ensure that the board’s policies are carried out,” he said. “It’s a very interesting job. Each day, nothing is the same as the previous day.”
As for the types of issues the district addresses and policies it puts in place, some recent items on the agenda included a property management and forestry matters; staff contract renewals; acceptance of a grant from DEQ for high hazard dams; hearing a report on the giant salvinia situation and hiring next year’s auditor.
The board also hears reports from the reservoir police chief, Parks and Campground Director and attorneys. The district’s attorney, Philip Huskey, was appointed by the state attorney general, but is paid by PRVWSD.
Aside from the board of directors, the district is divided into several departments. These include the Reservoir Police Department, parks and recreation, a maintenance department and administrative offices, which include financial, engineering and administrative offices.