November 18, 2021
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a letter on November 17, 2021 finding that the 2020 Proposed Plan for the Yazoo Pumps Project is prohibited by the EPA's 2008 Clean Water Act, essentially halting the project.
The Mississippi Levee Board immediately issued a release that stated, "For 80 years, our community has stood by as the Federal Government has played politics with the completion of the last pumping station on the Mississippi River, enduring devastating flooding in the South Mississippi Delta nearly every year as a consequence."
According to the Levee Board, Yazoo Backwater Pumps project is vital to the lifeblood of the area. The project was a godsend for residents after decades of flooding and two back-to-back years of heavy flooding events.
As proposed, the board noted in an earlier statement that the Yazoo Backwater Pumps would save lives while increasing wetland, terrestrial, aquatic, and waterfowl resources and reforestation.
The addition of 34 supplemental low-flow groundwater wells would improve water quality and raise water levels during low-flow season through responsible and modest flood mitigation.
In recent years the flooding took the homes of nearly 700 residents and claimed two lives. Ninety-four percent of the homes were minority occupied and many of them remain uninhabitable today. It also inundated farms and wildlife in the area.
“Despite the Biden Administration and the EPA administrator’s repeated insistence that environment justice is a priority, including during a meeting this past Sunday where administrator Regan had the opportunity to hear directly from those still suffering from the 2019 flood, today, they chose to ignore the concerns of our community and determined that no pumps can be built in the Yazoo Backwater Area," said the Levee Board release.
The November 17 release noted that there is no project that better meets the goals of environmental justice as prioritized by the Biden Administration and administrator Regan. Without the pumps to alleviate the area flooding, there is no relief from annual devastation.
In April of this year, the project was subject to a suit by environmental groups, Am. Rivers v. Army Corps of Engineers, D.D.C., in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The suit, filed by national organizations based outside of Mississippi, sought to reverse the 2021 Record of Decision from the U.S Army Corps of Engineers that had allowed the project to move to completion.
At the time the Levee Board said that, "Our community is tired of having national groups including American Rivers, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf - none of which are based in Mississippi - trying to stop critically needed, life and livelihood-saving local projects. The Mississippi Levee Board will work with the federal agencies, seek to intervene in the suit, and continue to advocate for completion of the Yazoo Backwater Pumps to keep Mississippians safe."
Residents, 62% of whom are people of color and 28% living below the poverty line, are the priority of the Levee Board.
The Levee Board is considering all options, including potential legal action, to advance the essential project.
Peter Nimrod is the chief engineer of the Mississippi Levee Board.
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