Water quality improves at Lake Tom Bailey in Lauderdale County; solar farm work continues

Bill Graham / The Meridian Star 

State officials said they have seen improvement in water quality at Lake Tom Bailey in Toomsuba, but work continues to stabilize a solar farm project site upstream from the lake.

State officials said they have seen improvement in water quality at Lake Tom Bailey in Toomsuba, but work continues to stabilize a solar farm project site upstream from the lake.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks began to receive complaints about “muddy” water at the lake in October 2019, according to a Jan. 14 letter from Larry Pugh, the fisheries bureau chief of staff.

“Our concern is that muddy water can adversely affect fish growth and decrease public use,” Pugh wrote to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. “MDWFP cannot mediate the effect of the muddy water until the sediment load from the construction site is substantially reduced.”

An inspection report shows McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. was issued a “large construction storm water certificate of permit coverage” in November 2018.

In November 2019. MDEQ staff visited the facility on Knox Road and an inspection revealed seven violations of state permit conditions, according to MDEQ records obtained by The Meridian Star through a public records request.

Records described failures to maintain erosion and sediment controls and to conduct stormwater control inspections.

A corporate environmental manager with McCarthy reported that by January the site had averaged more than 50 people per day focused on remediation efforts and that the company had spent more than $1 million on seeding, regrading and reseeding alone.

Larry Bull, assistant director of the Fisheries Bureau at MDWFP, said this month that the water is not as muddy as it was earlier in the year and is safe for fishing.

Swimming is not permitted in the lake.

“We have seen some improvement in the water quality over the last few weeks,” Bull said.

In a June 9 email, MDEQ said the agency continues “to be engaged in an ongoing enforcement action and receive and review progress reports from the facility.”

“They appear to demonstrate that the project site is on a path toward stabilization, but it is not yet complete,” the email stated.

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