Thompson’s leadership should be lauded

Published 7:31 pm Friday, April 12, 2019

Dear Editor,

Contrary to your April 10 opinion piece published on the Yazoo Pumps, Congressman Thompson should be lauded for his leadership to address backwater flooding. As he stated, federal programs already exist that immediately can be deployed to provide protection to communities in the backwater area, in lieu of a costly Pumps boondoggle that would take years to build with no guarantee it can keep communities flood-free.

These cheaper, quicker common sense measures include elevating homes and roads, and voluntary buy-outs and relocations. Communities across the U.S. are embracing these cost-effective, near-term practices to benefit people’s lives and property. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has outlined such an initiative for the Lower Yazoo River Basin that is a bargain at $20 million compared to the astronomically expensive Pumps that will cost taxpayers at least $440 million to build.

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The Yazoo pumps are not designed to protect communities from flooding. The project’s primary goal is to drain wetlands so that large landowners can intensify farming on lands that have always flooded – an independent economic analysis has supported this very conclusion. By destroying 200,000 acres of wetlands, the pumps will eliminate 200 billion gallons of flood storage capacity—natural flood protection that will be lost forever.

In the case of affected agricultural landowners, there is another set of federal programs that compensate farmers who volunteer to take their land out of production and restore it back to wetlands. In return, once these lands return to their natural state, they can alleviate flooding for neighboring communities. These programs — like the Conservation Reserve Program — are already employed in the Delta, and have proven to be a win-win for farmers, communities, and wildlife.

As to downstream impacts, the Army Corps of Engineers has acknowledged that flood stages would rise by a quarter of a foot in the Yazoo River right after the Pumps are turned on. What would happen after the pumps have pushed 9 billion gallons of water a day into an already swollen Yazoo River for 60 days — as would have happened this year? The Corps has a history of flawed planning, with the levee and floodwall failures in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina being a tragically notable example.

Finally, even if construction on the pumps could start tomorrow, the project would take at least four years to build. The project will have to compete for federal funding to cover its ballooning $440 million price tag with every other project on the Corps’ $100 billion project backlog.

Congressman Thompson is proposing a comprehensive, cost-effective vision to address backwater flooding rather than the archaic, expensive Pumps idea authorized in 1941. Other leaders should be challenged to expand their thinking.

Jill Mastrototaro

Policy Director, Audubon Mississippi