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Hyde-Smith encourages public comment on Yazoo Backwater plan as feds take next step forward

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Physical Model of Yazoo Backwater Pumping Station
Physical Model of Yazoo Backwater Pumping Station ( Photo by: Mary Miller Morgan)

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today encouraged Mississippians to review and comment on a proposed draft environmental impact statement (EIS) required to advance a new plan to bring flood control to the Yazoo Backwater Area.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is accepting public comments by Aug. 7, 2023, on its notice of intent to prepare a draft EIS for the Yazoo Backwater Area water management project.  The notice of intent, published Thursday in the Federal Register, further discusses the “Preferred Alternative” plan unveiled in May.

“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,” the Senator added.  “I continue to appreciate the commitments and work of the Corps, EPA, and Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the people, communities, and environment of the South Delta.”

The Federal Register notice of intent indicates that the Army Corps expects to release the draft EIS in December 2023, evaluating compliance with the Clean Water Act and other applicable laws and regulations.  The EIS will also examine measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate environmental impacts associated with the unfinished flood control project, which was authorized by Congress in 1941.

The notice of intent denotes several significant points regarding the Preferred Alternative, which would involve the installation pumping stations that would be operated on a seasonal management system.

“The recurring backwater flooding has demonstrated the need to complete the remaining flood damage reduction feature of the Yazoo Basin, Yazoo Backwater, Mississippi, Project.  In the twenty-first century alone, the Yazoo Backwater area has experienced some degree of backwater-induced flooding 19 out of the 23 years,” the Federal Register notice states.

“This seasonal water management solution will ensure flood risk reduction for the primary residences and vital infrastructure, preserving primary economic drivers in the community, while avoiding or minimizing adverse impacts to fish, wildlife, and wetland values,” it continued.

Within the notice, the Army Corps lists “Potentially Significant Issues” for consideration, among them:

  • WetlandsThe USACE Preferred Alternative will be designed to avoid and minimize wetland impacts.  Aside from the minimal unavoidable wetland losses associated with 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 EffectsRecent studies have shown the additional water from 25,000 cfs pumps, operating at full capacity, is approximately 1% of the Mississippi River highwater 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 to downstream flooding.
  • Environmental JusticeBackwater flooding events cause severe economic damages 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 though 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 Street, Room 248, Vicksburg, Miss. 39183.

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