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Hyde-Smith calls for action from Congress on flooding

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators only get one maiden speech in their time in the Senate. Thursday, U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was elected in November, used her first speech on the floor of the Senate to bring national attention to the ongoing flood in the Mississippi Delta and highlight the struggles of those living on Eagle Lake.

Hyde-Smith said immediate and long-standing needs for adequate flood protection in the Mississippi Delta represents a lack of responsiveness on the part of the federal government.

“Today’s flooding in Mississippi should not be happening. It’s time for the federal government to step up and make good on its promises,” she said. “It’s time for the federal government to listen to the people in need of help—and to help them.”

Flooding, which began in February and continues to inundate more than 488,000 acres in the Yazoo Backwater area, she said, is a source of deep frustration for Mississippians, who have waited more than 70 years for the full array of Mississippi River and Tributaries Project flood control work to reach them.

“The last remaining feature of this 77-year effort remains unconstructed due to excessive, over-burdensome regulations and red tape,” she said “Because of this, Mississippians are once again losing their homes and businesses; roads and bridges are being destroyed; and wildlife is dying – their habitat lost to contaminated floodwaters.”

Hyde-Smith addressed the need for Congress to reach agreement on emergency supplemental funding legislation to address disaster recovery needs in Mississippi and around the nation.

She also stressed the need for federal agencies to work together, and not against each other, to advance important infrastructure projects, like the authorized but unconstructed Yazoo Backwater Pump project.

“I cannot speak for others, but Mississippians would like to see more action, and less acting, from their leaders in Washington. Our nation’s environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects is the epitome of a flawed and broken bureaucracy in desperate need of repair,” she said.

The Flood Control Act of 1941 authorized a range of systematic of flood control improvements in the Yazoo Backwater Area—a 630,000-acre area spanning six west-central Mississippi counties and one northeast Louisiana parish — consisting of levees, drainage channels, floodgates, and pumping stations.

All of these features have been completed other than the Yazoo Backwater pumping facility, which has resulted in catastrophic flooding inside the existing levee system due to the inability to remove water trapped on the protected side of the levees.

In 2007, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was prepared to construct the final aspects of the Yazoo Backwater project, but was stopped by the Environmental Protection Agency due to concerns about adverse effects on fishery areas and wildlife.

As a result, the Yazoo Backwater Area has flooded 10 times over the past 11 years causing more than $500 million in damages.

At an April 3 appropriations hearing, of which Hyde-Smith is a member, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said his agency is reevaluating its 2008 decision to stop the Corps of Engineers from constructing the Yazoo Backwater Area flood control project.