U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith on Friday welcomed the long-anticipated release of a new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan that recommends moving forward on a flood control project to address the catastrophic Yazoo Backwater Area flooding that has plagued the South Mississippi Delta in nine of the last 10 years.
The Army Corps on Friday announced in the Federal Register the “Draft Supplement No. 2 to the 1982 Yazoo Area Pump Project Final Environmental Impact Statement,” a new Proposed Plan that would breathe new life into the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumps project. The Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) is now available for public review and comment through Nov. 30, 2020.
“The Vicksburg District’s recommendation to move forward with a new and improved Yazoo Area Pump Project proposal is a significant milestone,” said Hyde-Smith, who has championed the effort to reverse a 2008 veto of the pumps project. “Residents of the South Mississippi Delta have suffered enough. Over the past decade, we have lost lives, homes and businesses, suffered hundreds of millions in economic damages, and observed catastrophic impacts to the environment and wildlife.”
“I commend Commander Colonel Robert Hilliard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District for their swift and diligent work on this new and promising plan,” the Senator said. “I also strongly recommend that Mississippians study the Draft SEIS and comment in favor of taking the next steps required to finish the pumps.”
The Draft SEIS will serve as an update to the Corps’ 2007 environmental documentation, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended. The report takes into account new and improved environmental data in the study area, which has suffered significant flood events in nine out of the last 10 years with substantial environmental, economic, and public safety damage.
The Corps’ draft plan recommends a new location for the Yazoo Backwater pumping station, which would be operated by natural gas rather than diesel. It would also entail thousands of acres of conservation easements for reforestation, and the installation of 34 supplemental low flow groundwater wells to enhance aquatic resources.
In the Draft SEIS, the Corps determines that “the Proposed Plan is the most balanced, implementable approach, and meets the economic and environmental needs of the basin.” Based on new environmental and wetland data from the Yazoo Backwater Area, the updated evaluation also found that “precipitation is the dominant driver of wetland hydrology in much of the Yazoo Basin. As a result, impacts to wetland functions are not anticipated to convert any wetlands into non-wetlands.”
The Corps determined, “Inflow from the Yazoo Study Area drainage area into the ponding areas when the water control structures are closed causes interior flooding in the Yazoo Study Area that needs to be reduced. The flooding affects public roads and bridges; residential and nonresidential structures; other infrastructure; environmental resources; and agricultural, forested, and timber management lands. As a result, flooding has caused undue hardships and economic losses to residents of the area due to flooding of homes, disruption of sanitation facilities, lines of communications, and transportation. This flooding constitutes a major problem to residents and is a detriment to economic development of the Yazoo Study Area, therefore a definite need exists for the reduction of this flooding. A flood damage reduction project would benefit all sections of the economy and contribute to the well-being of all area residents.”
“More than $984.5 million in agricultural crop damages have been observed from various flood events since 2008, which does not even take into account the hundreds of thousands of acres that went unplanted because floodwaters rose in early spring and remained high through the planting season. In 2019 and 2020, for instance, more than 200,000 acres were prevented from planting, which means hundreds of millions of dollars in economic output the area could have generated,” Hyde-Smith said.
Recent studies conducted by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Mississippi State University Extension Service on the economic impacts of the 2019 backwater flooding found that 687 homes were damaged or destroyed, the average out-of-pocket expenses for area residents was $42,160, and that it could take years to fully realize the impact the flood had on area wildlife. The Draft SEIS estimates that flood damages across all categories would have been reduced by 75 percent if the proposed project would have been in place.
Public Comment Period
Due to COVID-19, the Army Corps will conduct virtual public meetings to provide information on the project and to receive verbal public comments. Time and meeting details for these public events will be provided in subsequent media release and advertisements.
The Army Corps will accept written comments through Nov. 30, 2020. Comments on the Draft Addendum should be sent by e-mail to YazooBackwater@usace.army.mil or by mail to: District Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District, 4155 Clay Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi 39138-3435