Special from the Mississippi Levee Board
This Mississippi Levee Board is pleased that the U.S. EPA has looked at the compelling new data and concluded that the modified Yazoo Backwater Pumps should be built. EPA committed to finding a solution to the significant flood damage that has occurred over the past twelve years since their earlier determination. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s (Corps) 2020 proposal moves the pump station location, enhances the mitigation for aquatic impacts, embraces adaptive management and is based on ten years of data showing little to no impact to wetlands from the planned flood control project.
This project has a long history and the community is pleased that the final component is now in active planning. The Yazoo Backwater Project was authorized in 1941. By 1978 the Steele Bayou Drainage Structure and the Yazoo Backwater Levee were completed. The last feature of the project was to construct the Pumps. When the Mississippi River is flooding, the gates of the Steele Bayou Structure are closed to keep the Mississippi River from backing in and flooding the South Delta. If it rains in the 4,093 square mile Mississippi Delta (2.62 million acres) the rainwater travels south and starts to back up behind the closed gates. The Pumps are needed to lift the rainwater over the levee.
In 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vetoed the 2007 Plan for the Yazoo Backwater Project.
In March 2019 EPA came and toured the disastrous 2019 Backwater Flood. They saw the devastation to the environment, wildlife, people, homes, crop land and the infrastructure. The Corps shared with EPA new data collected on Wetlands, new LiDAR data and backwater flood damages since 2008. During 2019 the Corps and EPA exchanged information and ideas to modify the project and make it even better for the environment.
The new 2020 Plan for the Yazoo Backwater Project moves the 14,000 cs Pump from Steele Bayou located in Issaquena County to Deer Creek just east of Hwy 61 in Warren County. The new Plan also includes the installation of 34 low flow groundwater wells along the Mississippi River Levee in the northwest corner of the Mississippi Delta which will be used to pump water into Delta streams and channels during the low flow season in the Fall. This added water will help sustain fisheries, aquatics, and mussels. . The new Project will also incorporate a monitoring and adaptive management plan to observe and make adjustments to the mitigation or the project if changes need to be made. The new Project will use natural gas to power the Pumps instead of diesel. The Pumps will lower the 100-year Flood by 5.1’. This will remove the vast majority of homes from the threat of a 100-year Flood and will remove the threat of highways being flooded. The Pumps will provide protection for crop land as well as provide dry habitat for the wildlife to survive on in future backwater floods.
The Corps released the Draft SEIS II for the new 2020 Plan for Yazoo Backwater Project on October 16, 2020 and the comment period ended on November 30, 2020.
The Mississippi Levee Board is pleased with the letter sent from the EPA to the Corps on November 30, 2020 with their comments on the Draft SEIS II for the new 2020 Yazoo Backwater Project. In this November 30, 2020 letter EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary Walker wrote “The EPA fully supports the purpose of the project to reduce flood damages in the Yazoo Backwater Area.” She also wrote “EPA has determined that the proposed project is not subject to EPA’s 2008 Final Determination.” This will allow the Corps to move forward with completing the Final SEIS and sign a Record of Decision that will allow the project to move forward with design and construction.
The Levee Board is pleased that the Corps and EPA have worked together in formulating this new 2020 Plan for the Yazoo Backwater Project and we are thrilled the Pumps are getting closer to reality for the Mississippi South Delta. It will take 4 years to design and construct the Pumps so the earliest they will be completed and ready for operation in 2025.