Corps of Engineers announces next steps to complete Yazoo Backwater Project
By Staff Reports
The Federal Register officially published a Notice of Intent on Thursday for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Corps Preferred Alternative for the Yazoo Backwater Area Water Management Project.
The Corps Preferred Alternative is a 25,000 cfs pumping plant turned on at 90 feet during the crop season (March 16 to Oct. 15) and 93 feet during the non-crop season (Oct. 16 to March 15). The Corps Preferred Alternative is not anticipated to convert any wetlands to non-wetlands during the operation of the water management solution. The non-structural component of the project includes the modification of the Steele Bayou Structure operation to maintain water levels in the Yazoo Backwater Area at approximately 75 feet. This feature will allow for more exchange of water between the riverside and the landside of the Yazoo Backwater Levee mimicking more natural flood pulses and therefore benefitting the environment. The remaining non-structural features consist of the acquisition or floodproofing of properties including ring levees, elevating homes, septic and sewer protection, and raising road elevations. The Corps will consider the Preferred Alternative in the EIS but they will also evaluate 4 alternatives: (1) No Action. (2) Variations of the Preferred Alternative providing variations on the crop season dates. (3) Pump-on elevation of 90 feet year-round. (4) A fully non-structural solution. The Draft EIS is scheduled to be completed in December 2023.
“The Mississippi Levee Board is extremely grateful to the Corps, Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for working together to develop this Preferred Alternative for the Yazoo Backwater Area Water Management Project,” a statement from the Levee Board read. “The Levee Board is thrilled with this announcement and we look forward to the release of the Draft EIS and the evaluation of the Corps Preferred Alternative for the Yazoo Backwater Area Water Management Project as well as the proposed alternatives.
“The Mississippi Levee Board appreciates the strong and steady leadership and support of the entire Mississippi Congressional Delegation including Sen. Roger Wicker, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Rep. Bennie Thompson,” the statement continued. “We are all looking forward to the day that the Mississippi South Delta will finally have adequate flood protection to protect our people, homes, infrastructure, cropland, wildlife, trees and the environment.”
Hyde-Smith released a statement Thursday encouraging public comment on the Draft EIS.
Public comments will be accepted through Aug. 7.
“Moving toward an environmental impact statement represents an important stage in the renewed push to finish the pumps and bring flood protection to a broad swath of the Mississippi Delta,” said Hyde-Smith, who has pushed for the Yazoo Backwater Area pumps since witnessing the devastation caused by historic flooding in 2019. “I encourage people in the Delta and throughout the state to offer comments on the EIS over the next month.”
Within the notice, the Army Corps lists “Potentially Significant Issues” for consideration, among them:
- Wetlands – The USACE Preferred Alternative will be designed to avoid and minimize wetland impacts. Aside from the minimal unavoidable wetland losses associated with the construction of an expanded footprint of the pump station facility, the USACE’s Preferred Alternative is designed to result in no conversion of wetlands to non-wetlands.
- Downstream Effects – Recent studies have shown the additional water from 25,000 cfs pumps, operating at full capacity, is approximately 1% of the Mississippi River high water flow, representing a nearly immeasurable contribution to the outflow at the Vicksburg Gage. The additional flow would minimally increase the water surface stage, which would have no appreciable effect on downstream flooding.
- Environmental Justice – Backwater flooding events cause severe economic damage to all populations in the Yazoo Backwater Area by destroying homes, farmland, wildlife resources, community infrastructure, and access routes used by residences and the public safety system. The majority of the Yazoo Backwater Area is home to low-income or minority communities which meet the threshold criteria of at least 20 percent or more of households having incomes below poverty levels or an area having a majority of residents identifying as a minority. The Yazoo Backwater Area is also designated as disadvantaged by the Council on Environmental Quality’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool.
Submit comments and suggestions through Aug. 7 by email to YazooBackwater@usace.army.mil or by mail to Mike Renacker, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District, ATTN: CEMVK–PPMD, 4155 East Clay St., Room 248, Vicksburg, MS, 39183.