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Hyde-Smith, Corps officials agree pumps would bring meaningful flood protection to Yazoo Backwater area

Photo by News Mississippi.

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith isn’t giving up her efforts to get the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA to reach an agreement on the last unfinished component of the Yazoo Backwater Area flood control project—a pumping station.

Responding to questions from U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) on the need for meaningful flood protection in the Yazoo Backwater Area, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials testified that “pumps are still in the mix” as the agency works to find a new path forward.

At a Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to review the FY2023 Army Corps budget, Hyde-Smith focused on how to overcome the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision in November to halt the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumps.

“I believe the Corps understands that the Yazoo Backwater Pump project is one of my very top priorities because I have seen the suffering that has happened in Mississippi,” Hyde-Smith said following the hearing.  “It’s clear to me that the Corps understands that a pumping station is the only way to bring meaningful flood protection to this part of Mississippi.  I hope ongoing talks help us make that a reality sooner rather than later.”

During the hearing, Hyde-Smith asked Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, about the reality of being able to provide sufficient flood protection for the area’s residents, businesses, and the environment without a pumping station to remove trapped floodwaters.

“We are confident in our science.  We are confident in our engineering that the pump station can be operated in a manner that protects these communities that you mentioned, but also protects the 38,000 acres of wetland that are in that area,” said Spellmon, who noted the Corps had considered almost three dozen non-pump alternatives that were not practicable or economically feasible.

In November 2021, the EPA halted the Corps’ new Proposed Plan for the pumps by disputing the peer-reviewed science and documentation.  EPA also sought to justify its conclusion by arguing that the Corps’ 2020 Proposed Plan was the same plan vetoed by EPA in 2008, despite the 2020 plan being in an entirely different county with a host of different features.

“We often hear:  ‘We need to listen to the science.’  Well, what does the science say?  The science says the Corps’ new Proposed Plan would not convert any wetlands to non-wetlands.  The science says the project would benefit all sections of the economy and contribute to the well-being of all area residents.  The science says the project would benefit wetlands, aquatic species, wildlife and wildlife habitat, and every other important resource that flooding has been destroying for decades,” Hyde-Smith said.

“But here is the real irony:  The current administration has placed environmental justice at the top of its priority list.  The Yazoo Backwater Area population is nearly 70 percent minority with roughly 30 percent living in poverty,” the Senator said.

Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, testified that the Biden administration considers the Yazoo Backwater Pumps an environmental justice issue.

“We have got to deal with that Backwater flooding.  We’ve got to figure out the mix of structural and nonstructural.  When I say structural, I think pumps are still in the mix for the discussion that we’re going to have in this interagency group,” Connor said.  “I can assure you this is part of the environmental justice agenda to get to a project, to get to a solution because of the factors you mentioned with respect to minority residents in that area, as well as the poverty level in that area.”

“We are getting the attention we need at a very high level,” Connor said, noting that an interagency working group, led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is trying to identify a path forward.

During the subcommittee discussion on the Yazoo Backwater Area, U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) added his voice to Hyde-Smith’s call for the Army Corps and EPA to reach an agreement on the last unfinished component of the Yazoo Backwater Area flood control project—a pumping station.

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