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District to prepare environmental impact statement for pumps project

The announcement Thursday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District will prepare a supplemental environmental impact study for the Yazoo Area Pump Project has some officials hoping the study could lead to its start.

Peter Nimrod, chief engineer for the Mississippi Levee Board, called the announcement big news.

“We are just absolutely thrilled that the Corps is moving forward with this supplemental environmental impact statement,” he said. “All the new wetlands data they’ve got shows the pumps really won’t affect the wetlands hardly at all.”

The Levee Board members Thursday signed a resolution thanking the Corps for its actions and expressing their support for the pumps.

According to a press release announcing the study, District engineers and technical experts determined the need for an updated study based on recent floods and new data on the environment in the backwater area.

“New data indicates that the environmental impacts to wetlands and other natural and aquatic resources caused by a pumping plant would be substantially less than originally calculated in the 2007 Reformulation Study and Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement,” the release said.

In nine of the last 10 years, according to the release, the Yazoo Backwater Area has experienced significant flooding.

In 2019, flooding in the area caused two attributed deaths, hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, the flooding of more than 600 homes, the displacement of hundreds of residents and significant negative impacts on terrestrial and aquatic species.

“The historic floods we’ve had to endure over the last couple of years have shown that you need the pumps not only for the people and for the farmlands and the homes, but you need it for the wildlife, the environment, the fisheries,” Nimrod said. The last couple of years have really shown that the pumps are needed.”

He said the notice of intent includes information about a new, modified project that will include moving the pumps to a different location and also includes well fields along the levee that can pump water into the Delta during low flood season, for the aquatics and fisheries.

According to the notice on intent in the Federal Register, the site being considered for the pumping station will be near Deer Creek in Warren County.

“The Corps and the EPA have been working together over the last year and it’s now come to the point where Congress gave money to the Corps to work on the environmental documentation, and that’s exactly what they’re doing,” Nimrod said.

He said the study is expected to be released by October, “Which is a very aggressive schedule which is great, because the sooner the better. So 2021, we can actually get to the point where we can start working on the pumps.

“It’s a great day for the pumps and we’re looking forward to having the SEIS to review in the fall and hopefully with the pumps starting to be built in 2021.

Warren County Emergency Management Director John Elfer was glad to hear the announcement and expressed hope the project stays on track.

“With all of the coronavirus and the bad weather and everything else, things get put on the backburner,” he said. “We still have a backwater flood, and without those pumps, it’s probably going to flood every year, and we need to get those folks some relief.”

“A notice of intent may seem like a small action, but it is very significant,” U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) said. “It is the first federal action in almost 12 years to reconsider the last remaining unconstructed feature of the Yazoo Backwater Project. I certainly welcome this first concrete display of future progress on pumps.

“I regret it has taken successive years of disastrous flooding to reach this point, but I am grateful to this Administration for recognizing the need to complete the project,” she said. “I will continue to work with the Army Corps, EPA, and Mississippians to support this effort, and to ensure the Army Corps has the resources needed to complete all the necessary reviews to get the backwater pumps back on track.”

The pump station is the final piece of the Yazoo Backwater Project that was authorized by Congress in 1941. The major piece of the project was the Yazoo Backwater Levee, completed in 1978. In 2007, the year before the EPA vetoed the pumps project, its cost was estimated at $220 million. An updated estimate has not been determined.

The pumps are expected to move 14,000 cubic feet of water per second from the land or Delta side of the structure to the riverside if and when the Steele Bayou Control Structure gates are closed due to high river stages.

Designs had it protecting about 630,000 acres in the South Delta from flooding. Flooding to residential and non-residential structures in the Delta would be reduced by 68 percent when the pump station is completed, according to a report from the Corps.

The EPA took into account multiple revisions in the plan in its veto but concluded the project would adversely affect area wetlands and wildlife.

The project took on new life during the 2019 flood when backwater area flooding reached a record level of 98.2 feet.

Flooding in the Yazoo Backwater area covered land in the Delta for 219 days and reached a record level of 98.2 feet during the 2019 flood, covering 548,000 total acres of land including 231,000 acres of cropland.

The flooding inundated the Eagle Lake community, forcing many residents there to leave their homes and evacuate to other areas. The water also overtopped Mississippi 465, Mississippi 16 and Mississippi 1.

Many of the backwater residents and local officials blamed the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to veto the construction of the pump station, which was to be built on the Steele Bayou Control Structure to help protect the South Delta from flooding.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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