GUIZERIX: What’s next for Yazoo Backwater Flood reporting

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Last week’s Community Engagement sessions with the Department of the Army and Environmental Protection Agency left me with a feeling I wasn’t anticipating: cautious optimism.

I arrived that morning at 8:45 and didn’t leave until 5:30 p.m. At approximately 6 p.m., when I arrived home, I was so emotionally drained from the hours of testimonies that I collapsed in a chair and instituted a single rule for my husband: Talk about anything but the Pumps.

After spending months reporting on the people of the South Mississippi Delta and making contact with — borderline pestering — the government entities tasked with finding a solution, I needed 24 hours to process what I’d just witnessed and determine the potential impact.

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It seemed like those attending the meetings were disarmed by Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor and EPA Region 4 Deputy Regional Administrator Jeanneanne Gettle and their seemingly genuine willingness to help.

This is a positive thing. During the meetings, I observed these officials actively listening. They asked clarifying questions, they took detailed notes. There was even a representative in the back of the conference room available to accept written comments, copies of speakers’ notes and supporting documents.

There were tears — both from the residents who shared their stories and from the D.C. delegation.

Last week’s engagement sessions were in stark contrast to the Aug. 24 listening sessions in Rolling Fork. The animosity exhibited in the auditorium of South Delta High School gave way to constructive feedback in the halls of the Vicksburg District.

The same people I’d spoken to during phase one of the “Faces of the Floods” series, many of whom were openly angry at their government, walked away from last week’s meetings with a new perspective.

Their jaws were unclenched, shoulders relaxed and many of them said to the panel, “I really wanted to be mad at you, but I can’t.”

The Army and EPA have presented what I’d consider one of the most aggressive timelines (from a bureaucratic standpoint) to determine a solution to Yazoo Backwater flooding. Not only that; they’re doing it from a collaborative standpoint.

With all of this in mind, I’ve taken time to pause and reflect on the next path I need to follow in adequately covering such an important issue for our part of the world. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to research, regroup and reevaluate the reporting I’ve done so far, and determine the best way forward.

Between now and June, when the Army and EPA say their solution will be presented, there’s a lot of ground to cover.

As always, none of the “Faces of the Floods” series or its sister podcast, “Voices of the Floods,” would be possible without the people of the South Delta. I saw many familiar faces at the microphone last week — and I hope they know their stories matter.

Stay tuned for what’s next, as this story is far from over.