River clean-up events offer lasting impacts
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Rivers have been the lifeblood of communities since ancient civilizations began. Healthy river systems are just as critical to modern communities as they were to settlers who navigated the rolling waters to explore America.
Rivers provide drinking water and food through the wildlife and fisheries they support. Rivers serve as transportation routes, sources of water for manufacturing facilities and energy producers through hydropower dams. Rivers draw wildlife lovers, anglers and hunters to their flowing channels. Rivers are a recreation resource, supporting ecotourism and serving as tranquil refuges that can calm restless souls.
Our local rivers and streams provide similar resources, services and potential benefits to our communities. Community leaders recognized this value by supporting revitalization efforts throughout the Pearl River Watershed from its headwaters in Nanih Waiya, Mississippi, to its mouth at Lake Borgne, Louisiana.
The 2017 Pearl River Clean Sweep, a volunteer cleanup of the entire length of the river, experienced widespread success with 1,015 community volunteers cleaning up 36,782 pounds of trash across the 490 miles of the Pearl River watershed. Community members took action in 15 Mississippi counties and two Louisiana parishes.
The Clean Sweep began as a community outreach project created by just one person, Jessica Gauley, owner/operator of Honey Island Kayaks. In June 2017, Gauley and representatives of Pearl Riverkeeper, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, began planning a river-wide cleanup and named it the Pearl River Clean Sweep. Flowing through the Jackson metropolitan area, the Pearl receives stormwater and debris from the urban landscapes, which can change the quality of water flowing through the river and often leads to litter or trash pollution.
Pearl Riverkeeper began in much the same way, as one person recognized the need for change in the Pearl River. Abby Braman founded Pearl Riverkeeper to raise awareness about issues facing the river, to foster community outreach, and to advocate for clean, fishable, swimmable and drinkable water on the Pearl.
Efforts to protect and restore the health of the Pearl River and raise community awareness and engagement will continue this year. Registration and information for this year’s event, which will take place in most locations on Sept. 15 and in a few Louisiana locations on Sept. 22, can be found at the Pearl Riverkeeper site (https://www.pearlriverkeeper.com/).
Resources and services provided by rivers translate into economic gains for regions like Mississippi with ample rivers and riverine ecosystems. A 2014 Economic Profile of the Lower Mississippi River, which was prepared for the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee, reported that 10 river-related economic sectors generate $151.7 billion in annual revenue and employ 585,423 people.
Tourism and outdoor recreation generated nearly $17 billion in annual expenditures and provide 245,000 jobs. Public lands along the Lower Mississippi River, including 30 national wildlife refuges, were found to help generate $1.3 billion in annual trip expenditures for fishing, hunting and wildlife watching.
For more information about water conservation or protection, contact Beth Baker of the Research and Education to Advance Conservation and Habitat program at Mississippi State University at 662-325-7491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.