Corps’ Data Shows Yazoo Pumps Will Not Protect Backwater Communities

Published 5:25 pm Saturday, July 24, 2021

83% of the Yazoo Backwater Area will continue to flood even with the Pumps

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversight is holding a hearing titled, “Examining Current Issues Adversely Affecting Environmental Justice Populations”.  One of the topics that will be discussed is the proposed Yazoo Backwater Pumps in the Mississippi Delta.

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Congressionally authorized in 1941, the antiquated $440 million-dollar project continues to be touted as the only solution to address flooding problems in vulnerable communities of the Yazoo Backwater Area.

New Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) data shows just the opposite; vast portions of the Yazoo Backwater Area will still flood even with the Yazoo Pumps in place.  Specifically, had the pumps been operating during the 2019 flood, 83% of the lands that flooded would still have been underwater, and it would have taken more than two months for the Pumps to drain the water from the remaining acres.

“Let’s get one thing straight, the Yazoo Pumps are not an environmental justice project because it will not protect underserved communities from flooding,” said Louie Miller, State Director for the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club. “By the Corps’ own admission, 80% of the project benefits go to agribusiness by draining wetlands to intensify farming.”

Last year, more than 230 conservation groups, social justice organizations, and scientific professionals joined over 90,000 members of the public in urging the Corps to abandon the ineffective Pumps and instead utilize proven, existing federal programs that would provide immediate, effective, and affordable flood relief to the Yazoo Backwater communities.  These commonsense approaches include elevating homes and roads, and paying farmers to restore cropland back to wetlands. (See Yazoo Backwater Area Resilience Alternative developed by the conservation organizations listed above.)

“The Corps has repeatedly ignored these proven measures that would put money on the ground to these marginalized communities that need it the most, to help protect people’s lives, property, and livelihoods in the South Delta,” said Jill Mastrototaro, Mississippi Policy Director for Audubon Delta. “These are what real environmental justice solutions look like.”

In addition, the Yazoo Pumps will increase the risk of flooding for vulnerable communities located downstream.

“Operating the Yazoo Pumps will put downstream communities at risk of increased flooding, including Black communities in north Vicksburg, by dumping an additional 9 billion gallons of water a day into the Yazoo River when it’s already at flood stage,” said Olivia Dorothy, Upper Mississippi River Basin Director for American Rivers. “This massive amount of extra water could also breach the Yazoo Backwater Levee, flooding the very same communities that the pumps are supposed to protect. The Yazoo Backwater Levee has an elevated risk of crevassing and is so low that it is not accredited to handle a 100-year flood, as acknowledged by FEMA and the Corps.”