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Year in Review: Vital backwater pumps project gets EPA’s blessing

This is part of a series by the staff of The Vicksburg Post looking back at the top stories of 2020.

 

The Yazoo Backwater pumps, which were a major topic during the 2019 Mississippi River flood, again took a prominent place in 2020 after the Environmental Protection Agency gave its blessing to the project in December.

According to a letter from EPA Region 4 Director Mary Walker to Col. Robert Hilliard, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District, the EPA determined the proposed project was not subject to EPA’s 2008 Final Determination, which vetoed a similar project.

The proposed plan to install pumps in the Deer Creek area, included in recent reports by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is not the same plan once vetoed by the EPA and thus can proceed without the agency’s objection, according to the letter.

Walker said in the letter the District’s 2020 Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement “provides information and analysis regarding a similar but different Yazoo Pumps Project than was previously analyzed.”

The Corps’ final supplement to its draft environmental impact statement released in October reversed its previous stance that pumping out floodwater would harm wetlands. The reports said pumps would decrease the depth and duration of flooding in the rural Yazoo Backwater Area, and that rainfall would keep this part of the Delta from drying out.

The report’s release followed a lawsuit filed in federal claims court asking the court to force the Corps to install the pumps. 

The pumps were the final piece of the Yazoo Backwater Project authorized by Congress in 1941. The major piece of the project was the Yazoo Backwater Levee, completed in 1978. The EPA vetoed the pumps project in 2008.