The Yazoo Herald

Residents Continue To Wait For Backwater Pumps

By Jamie Patterson

Residents are still demanding answers and relief when it comes to the status of the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumps Project. 

Town hall meetings and panels of elected and federal officials have recently held meetings to discuss flood control solutions as tensions rise with residents and farmers of the South Delta region, which includes an area that roughly runs from Vicksburg to Yazoo City.

Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Bennie Thompson organized a town hall meeting last Wednesday in Rolling Fork that included a packed school auditorium filled with residents who are regularly impacted by flooding. 

“South Delta residents have suffered repeated property damage, crop failure, and even death because of backwater floods, which were especially severe in 2019,” Wicker said. “These flood threats are not going away and require investments in new infrastructure.”

During the recent meeting with representatives from multiple federal agencies, Wicker said he hopes federal officials understand the perspective of the residents “who have to live with the fear that their homes or businesses will flood every time we have a heavy rain.”

“Our most important event was a listening session that was attended by hundreds of South Delta residents who shared their unfiltered stories of loss and hardship,” he added. “It was clear that virtually every Delta resident in attendance had suffered immensely from the continued flooding. I was encouraged that the group seemed willing to work with us toward a solution, and I will continue to hold them accountable to that commitment until they finally deliver on the promise of flood control for South Delta residents.”

Sen Cindy Hyde-Smith also addressed federal officials to stress the need for the federal government to construct a pumping station. The Yazoo Backwater Area Pumps project was canceled in November of 2021 after the Environmental Protection Agency shut down the idea for the second time. 

“As federal agencies and special interest groups continue to debate pumps vs. no pumps, it seems forgotten the United States Congress decided that a long time ago,” Hyde-Smith said.  “The authorized Yazoo Backwater Area Project calls for an intricate system of flood control features—levees, floodgates, drainage channels, and pumping stations—to protect a nearly 1,500-square-mile area.  That system cannot function without all of its parts.  And clearly, it’s not.”

Hyde-Smith said the project has been studied for nearly four decades. 

“The Corps (of Engineers) has not been able to identify any other practicable way to manage such enormous volumes of water, other than a pumping station,” she said. 

EPA Administrator Michael Regan told Hyde-Smith in May that an interagency group would soon “agree on what we believe to be a legally-sound and engineering-durable solution to the Yazoo pump issue.”

The Interagency Working Group held such a meeting recently, which was headed by White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. The meeting also included national and regional officials from EPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and National Weather Service.

Ag Commissioner Andy Gipson also addressed the panel, stressing the urgent need to finish the pumping station. 

“We strongly believe there is no better way to protect the public health and environment of the South Delta than to finish the pumps,” Gipson said. “The Yazoo Backwater Area of Mississippi has experienced significant flooding nine out of the past 11 years, which has devastated local economies and natural resources. This area also experienced minor flooding in the past two years, both in 2021 and 2022. If the pump station was in place, much of this man-made devastation could have been prevented.”

Gipson added that during 2019, over 550,000 acres flooded in the area, of which more than 225,000 acres were agricultural cropland. Within that region, over 680 homes were affected, with at least 252 categorized as having heavy damaged or destroyed. 

“The bottom line is area residents will continue to suffer until a pumping station is constructed,” Hyde-Smith said.