What was once called the "two lakes" project, a controversial idea to prevent flooding in the Jackson, Mississippi, area by damming the Pearl River, is going by a new moniker these days: Demonstration Project for the Pearl River Basin.

It's also been scaled back, from two proposed lakes to one, a 1,500-acre lake around Rankin and Hinds counties.

But no matter what the project is called, the idea of hemming in the Pearl is still drawing fierce opposition, especially in Louisiana.

Environmental groups, commercial and recreational fishermen, governmental bodies including the Louisiana Legislature and people who live in the lower part of the Pearl River basin fear the consequences of reducing the river's flow to places like the Honey Island Swamp in St. Tammany Parish.

The dam project was authorized by Congress in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act, but no money has yet been appropriated for the $205 million project.

Unlike typical federal projects, this one is not sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers but instead has a local sponsor, the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood Control and Drainage District. 

An attorney for that district did not return a phone call and email seeking comment.

Opponents have been waiting for the draft environmental impact statement on the project, which was expected last winter. But Andrew Whitehurst, the water program director for the Gulf Restoration Network, said the project's sponsors now say that it will be published in June.

Pearl River advocates keep wary eye on Mississippi plans they say threaten downstream ecosystems

While the 2007 authorizing legislation says that only impacts on the Jackson area need to be required, the sponsors agreed during meetings in 2013 to consider effects downriver, Whitehurst said.

But state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, said she doesn't expect them to work much outside the scope of the original plan.

"It's been pitched as flood control, but there are other options (to do that) that could be considered. We believe it's more of a development opportunity at our expense," she said. Creating the lake would also create lots of waterfront property. 

The nonprofit Pearl River Vision Foundation, which was formed by a businessman who pushed the two-lakes idea, is working with the Rankin-Hinds district, and the Mississippi Development Authority contributed $1 million to study the project.

Once the draft environmental impact statement is published, the sponsor will have to hold three public hearings — in Jackson, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in St. Tammany Parish, Whitehurst said.

But opponents aren't waiting for that document. The Gulf Restoration Network held a community meeting recently in Gulfport, Mississippi, that drew only a few participants, but Whitehurst said they represented important interests, including fishing industry lobbyists, lawmakers and the Sierra Club.

So far this year, a number of governments have passed resolutions opposing the project, Whitehurst said, including Washington Parish, Bogalusa and the town of Pearl River. St. Tammany Parish has been on record opposing the plan for years.

Opponents have also gotten support in Mississippi from Lawrence and Hancock counties and the town of Monticello.

But the biggest new ally is the Louisiana Legislature, which adopted a resolution opposing the plan.

Sponsored by Hewitt, Sen. Beth Mizell and Reps. Greg Cromer, Kevin Pearson and Malinda White, Senate Concurrent Resolution 5 says the proposal requires "close scrutiny" from all interests that rely on the Pearl for discharging wastewater and also raises concerns about how changes in the river's flow could affect oyster production.

It notes that Mississippi's Department of Environmental Quality has already put the river on its list of impaired waters because of the amount of wastewater it receives.

Hewitt created the Pearl River Task Force to look at issues affecting the lower Pearl River Basin that cross state and parish lines. While its focus includes determining the best governance and funding models for the basin, she said the panel immediately jumped on two big issues: the upriver lake project and a major logjam that is impeding marine traffic on the river.

She said she is looking forward to the draft environmental impact statement and the 45-day comment period that will follow its release.

The big question, she said, is whether the document addresses downriver concerns, including effects on oyster production, the health of the swamp and even discharge permits.

"We're working with our congressional delegation to make sure they are aware of it — and they are — and with local government entities to make sure our voices are heard," she said.

The ultimate goal, she said, is to make sure Congress doesn't fund the project.

"It's not just a Louisiana issue," she said.

But despite opposition on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the project has won some victories in that state, and in Congress.

The Mississippi Legislature passed a bill in 2017 that gave the flood control district special authority to cast a wider net in taxing to raise necessary matching funds.

Mississippi's U.S. senators are pushing for the project's funding to be included in the America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.

But a bill before the Mississippi Legislature this year that would have provided $95 million in state money for the project was defeated in the Senate, Whitehurst said. That bill would have provided more than the $72 million state match that is required under the Water Resources Development Act.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.