‘Thank You’: Community, state officials react to Yazoo Backwater proposal

Published 1:51 pm Thursday, May 4, 2023

Eagle Lake resident Ken Klaus, whose home has been impacted by Yazoo Backwater floods for decades, has seen plenty of proposals for the pumps project come and go over the past 30 years. The latest, he said, finally offers a ray of hope that it will become reality rather than mere talk.

A federal delegation comprised of seven agencies came to the South Delta to unveil a renewed proposal for the Yazoo Backwater pumps project on Thursday. Klaus was one of many residents who addressed them. Having attended “flood meetings” for the last 30 years, he said, the overall tone was different.

“This is, I think, the first time we’ve heard something so positive, that we have a project that’s been worked on by both sides,” Klaus said while addressing a federal delegation that unveiled a new proposal for the Yazoo Backwater Pumps project. “And you’ve come together and brought something to us, for us — not only us, but the wildlife and the agriculture. This is really exceptional.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

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 at the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge in Onward.

The proposal, which is just that — not finalized, just a recommendation from the 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.

Several members of the community and the Mississippi Levee Board were in attendance at this first of four meetings. Three more are scheduled at the Vicksburg District on Thursday and Friday.

During the public question-and-answer portion of the meeting, attendees questioned the proposal and offered feedback for the federal representatives in attendance.

Vicksburg attorney Ty Pinkins, a native of Rolling Fork, expressed concern for the demographic information of those living in one of the two dozen homes projected to be impacted by flooding. EPA Yazoo Technical Lead Laura Shumway said, at this point, those tasked with research had not examined demographics for those homes.

“If you look at those two dozen, 17 approximately already have some sort of floodproofing, but (partner agencies) would add to that if necessary,” Shumway said. “So you’re talking about approximately seven houses at that point. This was all conducted through windshield surveys.”

Hank Burdine, Mississippi Levee Board Commissioner from Greenville, offered his thanks to those who worked on the proposal.

“Thank you for looking at this situation we have here in a pragmatic way, in a way that did not have blinders on and that was pragmatically motivated. You looked at science, reason, you looked at data that needed to be looked at,” Burdine said. “I take my hat off to y’all for looking at this thing and seeing the situation we have here, with the human involvement, environmental involvement and the involvement of some of the best land in the world.

“Thank you for looking after the folks in the South Delta.”

This isn’t the first time a solution or pumping station has been presented. The Yazoo Backwater Pumps project, in particular, was most recently vetoed by the EPA in 2008 and again in 2021.

The question was raised: What will keep this project from being canceled again? Shumway offered a response.

“In the past, the Corps has been over the project. It’s been the Corps’ and they would finish it, hand it over and say, ‘Does this pass muster?'” Shumway said. “The EPA would review it and decide. This is completely different because we’ve been working together from the beginning. We’re working together to make it as defensible as possible.”

Elected Officials React to Proposal

Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith also weighed in following Thursday’s announcement, praising the proposal and acknowledging the benefit it would have in the Yazoo Backwater Area, should it be approved.

The stations will be designed to operate at a greater overall capacity than previous proposals in order to reduce the risk of flooding for almost all residences. For homes that remain at risk of flooding, the federal government would provide support for voluntary buy-outs or help to elevate homes and build ring levees.

“This is a great announcement. It’s a major step forward for South Delta residents who have been waiting decades for the federal government to keep its promise, and also, to protect them from flooding,” Wicker said. “This water management plan would help prevent nearly all the flooding that has destroyed homes and businesses, ruined crops, and devastated wildlife. Also, this new plan would not have been possible without federal officials hearing firsthand from the many South Delta residents who have shared their unfiltered stories of hardship and loss and frustration. I encourage all Mississippians who have been affected, who are interested in this issue, to continue sharing their stories and feedback on this proposal.”

“We can give thanks that the Army Corps, EPA, and other agencies kept their promise to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan they all agree on. I am excited to say we are stepping onto new ground. After a lot of time, hard work, stakeholder meetings, and many trips to the South Delta, the Corps and cooperating federal agencies support a single path forward,” Hyde-Smith said. “There is a long road ahead in terms of planning, design, funding and construction of the pumping stations, but I am committed to doing everything I can to move this plan forward. Mississippians deserve this, and have for quite some time.”

Gov. Tate Reeves also tweeted about the announcement, stating his support for the project and thanking Wicker and Hyde-Smith for their advocacy in Washington, D.C.

Reeves called the plan a “big victory” for the South Delta and Mississippi as a whole. He also praised the residents of the South Mississippi Delta who advocated for the pumping station.

“I want to make one thing crystal clear: this accomplishment, the fact that the federal government has agreed to re-examine the flooding and what can be done to stop it, is because of the folks in the Mississippi Delta,” Reeves said. “Over the years those in the Mississippi Delta have consistently raised their voice and shared their concerns. They spoke up, and today we are seeing what happens when you do.

“To everyone in the Delta, I’m so proud of you, our state is proud of you,” he added. “Thank you for being the catalyst for making today possible.”