Proposed Water Management Solution presented for Yazoo Backwater Area

Published 1:30 pm Thursday, May 4, 2023

The Yazoo Backwater pumps are once again officially on the table, and anyone wanting to comment on the new proposal can do so today and Friday at a series of public meetings.

Representatives from the “federal family,” comprised of the U.S. Army Department of Civil Works, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, the Vicksburg District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, United States Department of Agriculture and the Federal Highway Administration joined together to make the announcement Thursday at the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge in Onward.

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Structural Solutions

The proposal, which is just that — not finalized, just a recommendation from Army and EPA to be presented for approval — includes a pumping station, non-structural solutions such as ring levees and buy-outs, and federal agreements including follow-up monitoring.

“Our plan is to move forward with a 25,000 CFS (cubic feet per second) pump placed next to the Steele Bayou Structure,” said USACE Vicksburg District Programs and Project Management Division Deputy Chief Jacob Brister. “That pump will be operated seasonally — and there’s crop season and non-crop season.”

The estimated dates for non-crop seasons are Nov. 1 through March 24 annually. Crop season will be measured from March 25 each year to Oct. 31. During the non-crop season, the water elevation will be kept at approximately 93 feet, according to the five-year floodplain. During crop season, that elevation will decrease to approximately 90 feet, relative to the two-year floodplain.

Another aspect of this proposal that is similar to previous plans involves the Steele Bayou Control Structure.

“When the Mississippi River starts to rise and starts backing up the Yazoo River, it goes through the structure and creates backwater flooding,” Brister said. “Right now, when it gets to elevation 70 feet, we close the gates to keep the water from backing up there. Under this proposal, we’ll let that water get a little higher (before closing the gates).”

Brister said that instead of 70 feet elevation being the benchmark to close the Steele Bayou Gates, the new estimated elevation will be between 74 to 78 feet. Doing so, he said, will allow for more connectivity and increase the flow of freshwater and benefit wetlands and fish.

Non-structural solutions and federal agreements

In the non-structural realm, EPA Yazoo Technical Lead Laura Shumway explained several checks and balances of the proposal.

The federal agreements, Shumway said, involve a water control manual, follow-up monitoring and compensatory mitigation planning. Additionally, she explained that under this proposal, approximately 24 residences will still be impacted by flooding even if the proposal is approved and the pumping station is installed.

“Twenty-four residences in the five-year floodplain would be inundated based on the current estimates,” she said. “The majority of them already have elevations or ring levees, and those would also be supported through further work in this project. We would give them those types of solutions, as well as any buy-outs, should that be something they want to do.”

Additional considerations under other authorities include road elevations and septic and sanitary sewer protection.

Public Comment Period Open

The announcement on Thursday marks the beginning of a public comment period to receive feedback on the proposed water management solution. Click here to submit an online form with feedback.

Public meetings will be held at the Vicksburg District, 4155 Clay St., on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. There will also be a third session at the Vicksburg District on Friday, from 9 to 11 a.m.

The proposal, and feedback gathered during this public comment period, will be compiled as part
of the Army Corps of Engineers’ final presentation to the EPA for approval, with an estimated June 2023 deadline.