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STATEMENT OF W. H. TURCOTTE, CHIEF OF GAME AND FISHERIES
DIVISION, MISSISSIPPI GAME AND FISH COMMISSION Mr. TURCOTTE. My name is W. H. Turcotte, and I am representing the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission.
Flood control projects utilize levees and channelization along our major streams to control and accelerate runoff. Speeding the release of water through channels may reduce flooding in a project area but at the same time produce new problems or aggravate siltation and flooding downstream. The reduction of natural overflow cycles results in the conversion of bottomlands and wetlands for more intensive use. Over 500,000 acres of bottomland hardwood timber and wetlandsin the Yazoo Delta part of Mississippi have been drained and cleared for intensive farming in the past 20 years. Development along the gulf coast is taking more wetlands by dredge filling of marshes. Leveeing of bottomlands along the Mississippi River and backwater areas is taking more hardwood timber and wildlife habitat for conversion to more intensive use.
We maintain files on SCS Public Law 566 project work plans and review reports compiled or in progress as required by the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (16 U.S.C. 661-666c), as made by Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife and our personnel. From these files alone in 1969 our tabulation showed SCS Public Law 566 projects planning 2,549 miles of channelization. Under the Public Law 566 and other SCS programs there are plans for 157 separate stream systems. This gives some idea of the extent of channelization proposed by the SCS. It is our understanding that there were as of January 1, 1971, 2,492 miles of SCS channelization in approved projects in Mississippi.
We have proposals for six watersheds in the Tombigbee drainage system in our office. There are three more we do not have. The six proposals of the SCS contain 628.49 miles of channel work. In addition to the SCS, the Corps of Engineers is proposing 466.4 miles for a total of 1,094.89 miles of channels in this one river basin.
When the small watershed program was first encountered we expected this to consist largely of structures to impound and slow runoff used together with erosion control and other flood prevention measures we had seen demonstrated under the watershed protection and Flood Prevention Act program being carried on in north Mississippi. (See: Public Law 83-566, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1002-1005)). At first we were not much concerned about small watershed projects, but in reviewing several early plans, we found no mention of fish and wildlife habitat values or losses and general down-grading of bottomland timber and wetland values. Those early small watershed projects in the Yazoo Delta region contained little other than provisions for channelizing to drain existing wetlands. With progression of land clearing and intensive farming of land during and following project completions we became a little more concerned. By 1964 clearing of bottomland hardwoods in connection with SCS channelization projects in the Yazoo Delta region combined with about 554 miles of completed, authorized or planned Corps of Engineers channelization projects caused serious concern as reflected by our comments concerning Indian Bayou small watershed project, which I have appended as attachment I.
The Upper Yazoo Delta counties have been largely affected by channelization and land-use conversion. The lower delta counties have lost very substantial acreages of wetlands and bottomland hardwoods more recently following subsidized drainage and flood control projects. The major portion of remaining forest game habitat and game populations in the delta regions is in corporate timberlands or in public ownership in school sections, national forests, or national refuge lands. The Corps of Engineers has acquired a total of about 18,000 acres in the Askew detention area and the Hillside Floodway. All of this land was acquired for flood control purposes and the Hillside Floodway will be designated for national wildlife refuges purposes. The Mississippi Game and Fish Commission last year purchased 7,900 acres (6,000 in bottomland hardwood) in 1970 in the delta part of Grenada County designated for habitat preservation and for use as State
lands. A considerable amount of private land in the delta region is owned and used primarily for timber and wildlife purposes. Some of these large, important fish and wildlife land holdings still left are threatened with alteration. Delta Forestry and Wildlife, a 22,000-acre tract in Issaquena County, is scheduled for being traversed by the Big Sunflower diversion channel and Yazoo backwater levee, a Corps of Engineers project.
Another area, known as the NicIntyre Scatters, an interconnected system of lakes and timbered overflow basins lying between the lower Yalobusha and Tallahatchie Rivers, is some of the best remaining waterfowl and sport fishing habitat in the upper delta. Proposals for channelizing through Tippo Bayou to provide an outlet for Askalamore drainage through Six-Mile Lake, VicIntyre Scatters, McIntyre Lake and Old Orchard Lake, would cause permanent alteration. Local interests and the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission have strongly opposed this project to drain the "Scatters.” Attachment II, p. 420, Minute Book ii, June 3, 1970, meeting). Previously, on May 6, 1969, the commission adopted a strongly worded resolution in in opposition to channelization. (Attachment III.) And since that time they have taken the position of opposing channelization until the project can be reviewed and environmental impact statements are considered, and each project will be accepted on its own merits.
The fisheries resources of our streams and lakes have suffered from furm drainage and stream channelization and the combined effects of overflow frequency reduction, increased siltation from highly mechanized farming on a massive scale and associated mechanical and biological movement and magnification of pesticides through the food chain. A number of good fishing lakes have been destroyed or damaged by channelizing through them. Examples of total destruction by channelization are: Kilby Lake, Humphreys County, by Yazoo Auxiliary Channel; Six-Mile Lake, Sharkey County, by Big Sunflower diversion channel. Examples of serious damage and alteration caused by diverting channel or farm ditch flow are: Five-Mile Lake, Humphreys County, and Lake George, Yazoo County, Yazoo auxiliary channel. Wolf Lake in Yazoo County, formerly an excellent and beautiful game fish lake 18 miles long, has been seriously damaged by alteration of Big Sun Sunflower River and Panther Creek backwater flooding patterns by the Yazoo auxiliary channel and levee construction. Our studies of Wolf Lake show that it is no longer capable of
supporting bass and crappie populations under present conditions due to these alterations and related problems associated with intensive agriculture: siltation and pesticides.
Eagle Lake in Warren County is another example of one of our finest Mississippi River oxbow lakes being affected by flood control and channelization. This lake, over 4,000 acres in size, is connected by Muddy Bayou to channelized Steele Bayou. Steele Bayou drains a large portion of the lower Delta and during high runoff periods carries a large amount of silt laden with pesticides. Eagle Lake was designed by the Corps of Engineers to be a part of the Steele Bayou sump area in the now-completed lower segment of the Yazoo backwater project. Operation of the flood gate controlling backwater flooding of the Yazoo River during periods of high runoff causes silt laden with insecticides from Steele Bayou to be diverted through Vuddy Bayou into Eagle Lake. The Mississippi Game and Fish Commission and local interests installed this spring a temporary dum structure in Muddy Bayou to prevent this happening this year, hopefully until the corps can design and install a control structure to prevent contaminants from entering Eagle Lake by manipulation of control gates.
Fish population studies have been carried out by our fisheries biologists on many of our lakes and streams. These studies generally show that channelized streams support fewer varieties and less total poundage of fish. Tippah River in North Central Mississippi gives us a good example with facts to support our opposition to channelization. Before this stream was channellel, a fish population study in the fall of 1964 showed it was supporting 240.7 pounds of fish per surface acre. (See Attachment IV.) Average depth of the sampled area was 5 feet with holes up to 8 feet deep. The sample population was made up of many different kinds of fish of various sizes. In the fall of 1968 after channelization, at least 2 years after, this stream was a long, straight ditch with isolated spots up to 212 feet deep. The average depth was 0 foot. Holes and riffles and the trees along the banks were gone. The fish were gone, too. The population study showed only 4.8 pounds of fish to the acre and 4 pounds of these were minnows. (See Attachment V.) Where the channel stopped, the water had spread out through the woods and deposited silt deep enough to kill approximately 1,000 acres of timber. Channelization of the lower stretch of the Yalobusha River above Grenada Reservoir resulted in a similar loss of fish habitat and deposition of sand and silt burdens up to 4 feet deep over 700 to 800 acres of timber. That was a Soil Conservation Service project effect on Corps of Engineers' land in the upper part of Grenada Reservoir.
Our wildlife and fisheries biologists and Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, office of river basins personnel have reviewed many Public Law 566 and Corps of Engineers' channelization project plans. Mitigation measures have been proposed in many instances in our review reports to offset some of the fish and wildlife losses caused by the projects. In the last few years some mitigation measures have been instigated with the planning and construction of multipurpose structures providing recreation, fish, and wildlife benefits supported and paid for in part by local interests. Wildlife mitigation measures proposed for consideration by earlier projects were largely bypassed or lost in the shuffle in Washington with little or no support by the local
or sponsoring agencies. There is at least one example where a mitigation measure was installed but not operated for the intended purpose as a greentree reservoir. In December of 1969, an inspection was made of a wildlife habitat improvement installed by the SCS as a mitigation measure in connection with the Upper Quiver River and Blue Lake Watershed in Tallahatchie County. Structures described in the SCS work plan of 1963 as "an auxilliary channel, a levee, and two water flow control devices—will be installed as mitigating measures to insure that 1,401 acres of existing wildlife habitat can be maintained for managing water levels. Without these mitigating measures, the stream channel improvements would drain these areas, thus destroying them for wildlife purposes.” A 483-acre area was enclosed in a levee built around the low side. Upon inspection in 1969 the southwest corner had a crop of soybeans harvested from it. The floodgate was wide open 3 days before the duck season opened and remained open during the
The other structure, 5 miles east of Glendora, Miss., 918 acres of wetland habitat, was being properly maintained and operated by the landowner by use of the flood gate installed in a SCS approved outlet ditch. (Copy of field inspection report on the two areas described is appended, Attachment VI.)
Our concern about channelization and its effects on fish and wildlife was related in a letter (Attachment VII) on our participation and review of the Corps of Engineers' plan for the Yazoo backwater project levee, Steele Bayou to Deer Creek, and Deer Creek to Big Sunflower River, and for canals (channels) connecting the Steele Bayou and Sunflower backwater sump areas. In connection with this project, mitigating measures were proposed. These were for the acquisition of land in the Steele Bayou sump area for flood control purposes, for fish and wildlife management and the construction of a dam and spillway structure that would form a 2-mile long recreation lake of the Big Sunflower River between the point of diversion through Six-Mile Lake and the backwater levee. Congress did not authorize any funds for land acquisition in fee title for this project segment, nor were any funds authorized for flowage easements for the proposed lake. Local interests could not obtain easements from all of the land owners around the lake for recreation purposes although most of the adjoining owners indicated a definite interest. The corps has offered to complete the structure but has no authority to acquire the necessary easements except for flood control purposes.
A few mitigating structures, mostly low water weirs in channels or farm ditches have been installed. These serve little purpose for fish and wildlife other than for control of undesirable vegetation. In connection with the Upper Steele Bayou project mitigation structures for seasonal impoundment of water on Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge have been incorporated in the plans. Most of the mitigation measures will be located in that area for the entire delta region.
Our comments above were directed to the effects of stream channelization by SCS and other projects as sponsored by State and local interests. We do not contest the many concepts of small watershed, flood prevention, and river basins projects that are good. There have been great benefits as well as losses due to some phases of these projects.
Through the concerted efforts of many people working within and without conservation agencies, including the SCS and the Corps of Engineers, people are more aware of changes and losses inflicted by channelization on fish and wildlife habitat. Public awareness is beginning to change the direction of these programs by seeking more satisfactory solutions and alternatives to channelization as directed by_Congress under the National Environmental Protection Act.
We need to put biological considerations in with economic and engineering planning for the future so that decisions can be made based on full disclosure of all of the facts, which has not been done in the past. Social decisions must be made to preserve and improve the quality of our environment, considering the costs and consequences of the past decisions on channelization of streams. Hopefully, we can set new goals and priorities leading all of us toward a better quality of life based on more enlightened cultural values. The present program of stream channelization causes irreparable ecological damage and no one can pretend to know the long-range effects of the massive changes proposed for our waterways in Mississippi. We recommend corrective action to resolve the basic contradictions in land and water use posed by most stream channelization projects.
(Attachments I through VII, referred to by Mr. Turcotte, follow:)
November 10, 1964. Re Indian Bayou. W. L. Towns, Chief, Division of Technical Services, Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife,
Peachtree-Seventh Building, Atlanta, Ga. DEAR MĘ. Towns: We have reviewed your letter report on Indian Bayou small watershed project in Sharkey and Issaquena Counties. As you know, we have participated in the examination of the project area. This has been an excellent fish and wildlife habitat but prior recent drainage works on Steele Bayou and recent extensive land clearings have deteriorated their values for wildlife. This is still an important deer area. Wild turkeys have been reestablished by the commission's stocking program following complete disappearance instead of supplementary stocking as mentioned in the report.
It seems needless to comment further as you have pointed out the effects of these drainage plans on fish, forest game, and waterfowl habitat. This area is a good example of the accelerated loss of these resources that can be caused by overlapping flood control, stream channelizatio and small watershed drainage projects. Crop supports and factors other than drainage and flood control interests have now made speculative clearing and farming of low-lying bottomland timber profitable on a short-term base of operations. Exploitative clearing of submarginal timberland has now reached a stage which can seriously affect vital parts of the economy of the Lower Delta Region and this should be of concern to all interests. Very truly yours,
JIM CARRAWAY, Executive Director.
CHANNELIZATION There was discussion of the proposed draining of McIntyre Scatters, Le Flore County. Mr. Nickle asked the commission to take a firm stand on channelization; to send copies of the resolution on channelization that was passed in a previous meeting to all members of our congressional delegation, the Governor, and Le Flore County Sportsmen's Club, reiterating the commission's opposition to channelization; also, Mr. Nickle asked that the Public Relations Department give our stand on channelization plenty of publicity.
62-365—71-pt. 3 -6