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Positive report: Corps’ study says backwater pumps project should move ahead

After months of study and feedback, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a report Friday that lays out recommendations for completion of the Yazoo Backwater Pumps Project.

In the recommended plan, the Corps calls for the installation of a pump station capable of pumping 14,000 cubic feet of water per second, perpetual easements to reforest up to 55,600 acres of agricultural land and impoundment of Yazoo Backwater Area river water up to three feet higher during low water conditions.

The report comes a year after elected officials — at the local, state and federal level — joined communities throughout the backwater area in calling for the long-planned, but vetoed, pump project to be completed and comes as the area continues to recover from the drastic impact of the historic 2019 Yazoo Backwater Flood.

While not the final report, the Yazoo Backwater Area Reformulation Study is a big step forward to ultimately having the pumps project — which is more than 70 years in the planning — completed.

“The Vicksburg District’s recommendation to move forward with a new and improved Yazoo Area Pump Project proposal is a significant milestone,” U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said. “Residents of the South Mississippi Delta have suffered enough. Over the past decade, we have lost lives, homes and businesses, suffered hundreds of millions in economic damages, and observed catastrophic impacts to the environment and wildlife.”

The study, part of the Draft Supplement No. 2 to the 1982 Yazoo Area Pump Project Final Environmental Impact Statement, officially breathes new life into the completion of the pumps and now will go through another round of public review and comment.

The report serves as an update to the Corps’ 2007 environmental documentation, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended.  The report takes into account new and improved environmental data in the study area, which has suffered significant flood events in nine out of the last 10 years with substantial environmental, economic and public safety damage.

“This is a positive step forward for the residents of the South Mississippi Delta who have long been pleading for relief. The Army Corps of Engineers’ new report represents the latest data on the impact of backwater floods that have devastated wildlife, destroyed crops and damaged homes throughout the Yazoo Backwater Area,” U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker said after reviewing the study. “While this project is still far from the finish line, I am encouraged that the Corps has listened to the people of Mississippi and seen the impact of the floods on our state and our environment.”

Peter Nimrod, chief engineer for the Mississippi Levee Board, said the supplemental report makes the pump project “an even better project than when it was in 2007. It’s got a lot more environmental features that make it better for the environment, better for the terrestrials, the aquatics, the trees — everything.

“We’re really excited about it; the need is there. The 2019 flood was the record flood and nobody can deny the damage to the environment or the wildlife, the farming community and the homes and the highways underwater,” he said.

“It looks like they’re going to be able to knock the 100-year flood to 95.2 feet, which is great because it’s now at 100.3 feet, You’re actually reducing the base flood elevation by about 5.4 feet, and that is going to remove almost all the homes in the South Delta from the 100-year event. We’re really excited about it, really proud of it,” Nimrod said. “The Corps did an outstanding job getting the draft on schedule.”

The Corps’ draft plan recommends a new location for the Yazoo Backwater pumping station at Deer Creek, which would be operated by natural gas rather than diesel. It would also entail thousands of acres of conservation easements for reforestation, and the installation of 34 supplemental low flow groundwater wells to enhance aquatic resources.

Nimrod said Deer Creek divides the Delta.

“You’ve got the Big Sunflower River Basin which makes up 82 percent of the Delta, which handles most of the water, and then you have Steele Bayou Basin, which is only about 18 percent of the Delta, he said. “When you put the pump on Deer Creek, you’re pumping the water from the Big Sunflower over before it inundates the Stele Bayou Basin.”

In the Draft SEIS, the Corps determines that “the Proposed Plan is the most balanced, implementable approach, and meets the economic and environmental needs of the basin.” Based on new environmental and wetland data from the Yazoo Backwater Area, the updated evaluation also found that “precipitation is the dominant driver of wetland hydrology in much of the Yazoo Basin. As a result, impacts to wetland functions are not anticipated to convert any wetlands into non-wetlands.”

“More than $984.5 million in agricultural crop damages have been observed from various flood events since 2008, which does not even take into account the hundreds of thousands of acres that went unplanted because floodwaters rose in early spring and remained high through the planting season,” Hyde-Smith said. “In 2019 and 2020, for instance, more than 200,000 acres were prevented from planting, which means hundreds of millions of dollars in economic output the area could have generated.”

Recent studies, conducted by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the Mississippi State University Extension Service, on the economic impacts of the 2019 backwater flooding found that 687 homes were damaged or destroyed, the average out-of-pocket expenses for area residents was $42,160, and that it could take years to fully realize the impact the flood had on area wildlife.

The Draft SEIS estimates that flood damages across all categories would have been reduced by 75 percent if the proposed project would have been in place.

“The Draft Supplement No. 2 to the 1982 Yazoo Area Pump Project Final Environmental Impact Statement is a proposed plan and is subject to change based on the feedback that the USACE Vicksburg District receives during the public comment period,” the District said in a statement to The Post, asking if the study was a full recommendation by the Corps for the pumps project.

The Yazoo Basin, Yazoo Backwater, Mississippi, Project, of which the pump project is a part, was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1941. The project’s other features, including the Yazoo Backwater Levee, a 15-mile-long connecting channel. and the Steele Bayou, Little Sunflower and Muddy Bayou control structures, were completed in the 1960s and 1970s. The pump project is the only feature that remains unbuilt, and the Yazoo Backwater Area is the only major backwater area in the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project that does not have a pumping plant.

The Yazoo Backwater Area flooded nine out of the past 10 years.

“The public, interested parties, and stakeholders are invited to comment on the Draft Supplement No. 2. The Draft Supplement No. 2 contains a description of the project, an updated recommended plan, and an analysis of potential environmental impacts. All public comments received will be addressed and considered as part of USACE’s decision-making process,” the District said in its release. “The Draft Supplement No. 2 is available online at the USACE Vicksburg District website at: https://www.mvk.usace.army.mil/missions/programs-and-project-management/project-management/yazoo-backwater-report/.”

Comments on the Draft Supplement No. 2 should be sent by e-mail to YazooBackwater@usace.army.mil or by mail to the following address:

District Engineer
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Vicksburg District
4155 Clay Street
Vicksburg, Mississippi 39183-3435

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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