Wicker: Backwater pumps have been blocked by ‘bureaucracy and misinformation’
Published 8:23 am Monday, March 16, 2020
Last year’s catastrophic floods are back again. In the spring of 2019, many Mississippians lost their homes, others were unable to plant crops, and tragically one couple and their unborn child lost their lives. Now, high waters in the Delta are threatening another year of crops and livelihoods. At the same time, the Jackson metro area is recovering from last month’s flooding, which damaged hundreds of homes and businesses and displaced many families.
After years of delay, two much-needed flood control projects may finally be ready to move forward — one in the Delta and the other in metro Jackson.
Finish the pumps
Since the Great Flood of 1927, the Army Corps of Engineers has made great progress in controlling flooding along the Mississippi River as part of the Mississippi River & Tributaries project. The Corps has constructed levees and dams, as well as pumps to remove excess rainwater, trapped by the levees, from residential areas and farmland.
Congress approved pumps for the Yazoo Basin as part of the Yazoo Backwater Project in 1941 — nearly 80 years ago. Yet these pumps continue to be blocked by bureaucracy and misinformation, leaving Delta residents and small businesses vulnerable to flooding every year.
Since I first came to Congress, I have worked to see this project completed, but there have been tough obstacles. One of those has been the Environmental Protection Agency, which rejected the project in 2008 because of misplaced environmental concerns. EPA’s decision has resulted in an estimated $1.2 billion in crop insurance payments from flooding in the years that followed, not to mention damaged homes and ruined crops. The flooding has also killed local wildlife, such as deer, bears and turkeys.
Based on better education and more accurate data, additional groups are embracing the pump project. The Nature Conservancy of Mississippi, a conservation group, has come out in support of the project along with the Mississippi Farm Bureau. And a grassroots movement of Delta residents is spreading the message that it is time to finish the pumps.
EPA is now taking the plight of Mississippi residents seriously. The agency’s regional administrator, Mary Walker, visited the Delta last October and heard directly from residents about the need for backwater pumps.
Preventing another flood in our capital
Though the damage from last month’s flood was less than feared in Jackson, it revealed just how vulnerable our state’s largest city continues to be. The Easter flood of 1979 inundated large portions of Hinds and Rankin counties and caused over half a billion dollars in damage. The region experienced another flood in 1983 and several more close calls since. More than 40 years later, the capital region still lacks adequate flood control protections.
After years of effort, a proposed flood control project for Jackson, Flowood, and the surrounding area is getting renewed attention. This plan would deepen and widen the Pearl River channel, allowing floodwaters to move through the city at a lower level. This would protect Hinds and Rankin counties from more than $1 billion in potential damages and losses.
I am encouraged that the local sponsors, after years of study and soliciting public comment, sent the proposal to the Army Corps of Engineers to be vetted and considered for final approval. This project would protect Mississippians in the capital region for generations to come.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss) is the senior senator representing Mississippi in the U.S. Senate.