MCCOMB — Visitors to Percy Quin State Park will see a rare sight this fall — the bottom of the lake.
Park manager Will Busby said the lake would be lowered an estimated six feet to 10 feet for repairs to the dam and spillway valve.
Busby said the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks would take bids in October. That would put work starting in November.
The project will take four to six months, but the contractor will work on the lake side of the dam first so park officials can start bringing the lake back up as soon as possible, Busby said.
The project will take all winter, and officials haven’t decided yet whether fishing will be allowed while it’s under way.
“I think it’s a project they’ve (MDWFP) been trying to do for years now,” Busby said.
The dam is seeping and the valve has a slow leak. A contractor will re-slope the front and back of the dam, add new riprap, clear trees at a distance of 30 yards below the dam, and repair the leaky valve.
“We’re going to have to drop the lake down till there’s no water touching the dam side,” Busby said.
That will leave most of the 700-acre lake dry, with a pool at the base of the dam.
Busby hopes to have everything complete and the lake refilled by March 1 so it won’t interfere with fish spawning.
If fishing is not allowed, that will be a blow to many, especially those who fish there regularly, Busby said. But he said fishermen he’s talked to realize the work must be done.
So far as he knows, work on this scale hasn’t been done since the early 1970s.
“They’ve got to do something with that leak coming through that bleeder valve,” Busby said, noting the valve was replaced in 1995 but is leaking at the seam.
As for the dam, “they’re going to put a whole lot more slope on the front side,” he said.
Lowering the lake shouldn’t hurt the fish population or require restocking, he said.
“There still should be enough water to hold the population of fish.”
Busby said he would prefer no fishing be allowed while the project is under way. That would protect the fish population, which will be vulnerable when confined to a smaller area.
There are advantages to the drawdown besides dam and valve repairs. Officials typically lower the lake 3 feet each winter to kill water hyacinth, and this year’s drop should be even more effective in knocking back the water-choking, propeller-clogging plant.
Park employees will also take advantage of the low water to add onto brush-tops and other fishing structure installed several years ago. Busby hopes the lake will be dry enough to drive a tractor across the bed for such work.
“It’s an opportunity to make the fishing great again, to be honest with you,” he said. “Since we’ve added the timber and stuff, the fishing’s been really good. We’ll reinforce that. … It’s kind of an exciting time, and you hate to see it (water) out of there, but it’s something we’ve got to do.”
Once the valve is open, the lake will drop 8 to 10 inches a day, provided there’s no rain.
“The problem if it rains (is) it can fill it right back up in no time at all whether the valve is wide open or not,” he said.
The amount of winter rain will also affect how soon the job can be completed.
Among challenges park officials face is watering the golf course, which is watered from the lake by gravity feed. Dealing with that will likely be up to the contractor, Busby said.
Fisherman Tim Stogner he’s fine with the work.
“I think it’s a plus for the area to make these improvements for the lake even though we’re going to have some short-term issues to work around, but for the long term we’re better off,” said Stogner, who is public relations director for Southwest Mississippi Bass Club.
He said there are plenty of other waters nearby to occupy fishermen until Percy Quin is full again, including Okhissa Lake, Lake Lincoln and the Bogue Chitto River.
“If they’re going to make these improvements, I will fish more at Percy Quin,” Stogner said.