District hopes to put creek back in Deer Creek

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 26, 2001

John Abney, Sharkey County’s commissioner of the Yazoo Mississippi Delta Joint Water Management District, stands near a 60-year-old footbridge that once carried pedestrians over Deer Creek in Rolling Fork. In this location, the creek bed is now dry except during periods of heavy rainfall. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[06/26/01] At one time Deer Creek in the Mississippi Delta was a navigable stream capable of floating Civil War gunboats.

Because of siltation and changes made in the waterway starting about 1900, many places along Deer Creek are dry or nearly dry in the summer. At other locations, the creek is a trickle.

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletter

Receive daily headlines and obituaries

Now, however, seeds have been planted to see if the waterway can be restored.

The Yazoo Mississippi Delta Joint Water Management District is trying to pull together an organization to be called the Deer Creek Watershed Working Group to try to do something to return Deer Creek to some semblance of what it had been.

The historic creek flows for 159 miles from Lake Bolivar in Bolivar County, making its way through Washington, Sharkey, Issaquena and Warren counties. At one time, the stream met the Yazoo and Sunflower rivers just north of Vicksburg. When the Sunflower Diversion Canal was constructed, the creek began to flow into it. The lower reach into Warren County was severed.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, siltation is only one of the problems with Deer Creek. Illegal dumping has taken place along the banks and raw sewage has been routed directly into the waterway.

Among objectives of the plan are to improve water quality and quantity, enhance wildlife habitat and provide a place for recreational boating and fishing.

Dean Pennington, executive director of the joint management district, has an office in Stoneville. He said he and others know the challenge is a big one.

“It is a tall order, but it can be done once the group gets geared up for the task,” Pennington said.

Potential members of the working group will come from agencies such as the Mississippi departments of Environmental Quality and Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and Soil and Water Conservation Commission; federal agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service and Corps of Engineers. Members will also be drawn from levee boards and from the boards of supervisors from the counties through which Deer Creek flows.

Pennington said one of the local volunteers is John Abney of Rolling Fork who agreed to be one of the local chairmen for the Yazoo Mississippi Delta Water Management District.

Brian Chewning of the Vicksburg District of the Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that agency is in the initial phases of looking at Deer Creek.

“The joint water management district has requested the district look at Deer Creek under our Section 1135 authority,” Chewning said. “We are now in the process of requesting funding.”

That funding, Chewning said, will come from the regular Corps budget and will not have to be authorized separately.

Once the funding is in hand, he said, the study will be performed to determine the feasibility of the proposed work and to develop alternatives and cost estimates.

“We may get the money by the end of June,” Chewning said, adding that the district should also have its team picked by that time.

Pennington said his group is planning meetings with boards of supervisors beginning in the next couple of weeks to ask them to appoint members to the team that will consider proposals and formulate plans.

He said he hoped to have everything in place so the group might be able to begin some work early this fall or in the spring of next year.

“The major work is still a couple or three years away,” Pennington said.

He said funding will have to come from many sources.

“We want to apply for a water quality grant from the Environmental Protection Agency,” Pennington said.

Ray Adcock, field supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s state field office, said his office hopes to attract other people and organizations once the organization gets operating.

“We want local schools involved, too. We think environmental education is an important component of the Deer Creek restoration effort so we’ll be asking the schools to participate in various ways like monitoring Deer Creek’s water quality,” Adcock said.