I want to offer the people of Mississippi some facts before they accept the propaganda circulated by various nonprofit environmental organizations regarding the devastating flooding Mississippi’s South Delta has been experiencing for the past five months.
Congress enacted the Flood Control Act of 1941 following the 1927 flood as a massive plan of alleviating flooding for 41% of the nation to the detriment of the Yazoo Backwater Area of Mississippi. To offset the unnatural and undue burden placed on this area, Congress authorized the Yazoo Backwater Project, which consisted of drainage structures, levees and pumps to remove excess rainwater from the Delta during high-water events on the Mississippi River. Construction on this project began in the 1960s, and the drainage structures and levees were completed in 1978. The final critical component of this project, the Yazoo Backwater pumps, has yet to be completed due to pressure from environmental groups.
Environmentalists opposed to the project claim the Yazoo Backwater pumps “would drain and destroy 200,000 acres of wetlands in the heart of the Mississippi River Flyway.” According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there are 189,600 acres of wetlands in the project area. The pumps would only be operational when flooding in the area exceeds 87 feet. At 87 feet, there would be more than 216,000 acres already under water. None of these 216,000 acres would ever be drained by the pumps. In fact, the natural 30-year average water elevation in the Yazoo Backwater Area is 75 feet, well below the levels the pumps would maintain during a high-water event on the Mississippi River.
Of the 189,600 acres of wetlands in the project area, 124,500 of them are designated as “temporary flooded” wetlands, in which “surface water is present for brief periods (from a few days to a few weeks), but the water table usually lies well below the ground surface for most of the season.” The entirety of those 124,500 acres has been inundated with 6 to 12 feet of stagnant water for more than six months, and the water is not leaving anytime soon. Rather than being “drained” by the pumps, these wetlands are being negatively impacted by recurrent flood events that significantly alter their wetlands classification due to the absence of the pumps.
Environmentalist disinformation claims there is no “evidence (this project) would have alleviated the area’s recent flooding.” This assertion is blatantly false. There are more than 50 years of engineering studies on this one project alone. All conclude the pumps would have significantly reduced flooding above 87 feet. Further, there are three other backwater areas along the Lower Mississippi River Valley that were also authorized by the 1941 Flood Control Act — the St. Francis and White River Backwater Areas of Arkansas and the Red River Backwater Area of Louisiana. All three lie within the same Mississippi River Flyway as the Yazoo Backwater Area and have similar wetland ecologies. All three have their authorized pumping stations installed and operational. They perform as predicted, giving us confirmation that such projects function as designed without any adverse effects to wetlands. While Mississippi’s South Delta is flooded to 98.5-foot elevations by trapped rainfall, farmers’ crops in Louisiana, directly across the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, are growing as usual on land elevations of 85 feet. Pumps DO work.
A few interrelated environmental groups exhort us to “urge your congressional leaders to reject the pumps in favor of more affordable, effective options.” We cannot begin to assess the damages and costs of the current flooding until the waters recede; however, given the loss we can see with our own eyes right now, we know we are facing an extremely costly and lengthy recovery. Required repairs to county roads alone will be an insurmountable expense for most county budgets.
The cost of this flood would more than have paid for this project several times over. In the past 10 years since the EPA vetoed the pump project, the area’s preventable flood- damage losses to agriculture have cost over $152 million MORE than the cost of the pumps. Had this project been completed as designed, it would have already paid for itself, and we would not have thousands of dead wildlife floating in stagnant floodwaters or stranded and starving on tiny parcels of land that have not yet flooded. The pumps are the most ecological and economical solution for the Yazoo Backwater Area, its people, its communities, its wildlife and its wetlands.
In 1997, the Mississippi Levee Board formed a Consensus Group to bring government agencies and environmental groups together to formulate a plan all could endorse. The groups currently opposing the project attended the first meeting of the Consensus Group, then failed to participate in the remaining 50 hours of meetings and compromises over the next 11 months. If they were genuinely interested in formulating a beneficial plan forward, it seems they would show up on behalf of their contributors and members. It appears these opposition groups are most interested in tugging on the heart (and purse) strings of the uninformed and unsuspecting in support of their indefensible radical environmentalist agenda.
I urge you to research the facts for yourself, then contact your congressional delegation and ask them to do what is best for all of us, including our wildlife and wetlands: Install the pumps!