This Mississippi House of Representatives passed a bill in support of the completion of the Yazoo Backwater Pump Project this week. Passage of the resolution comes after farmers, ranchers and rural Mississippians in the South Delta experienced devastating floods throughout 2019, and are preparing to face them again in 2020.
HC 9 states it is “a concurrent resolution to request the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Mississippi Levee Board and the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board to take all necessary actions to complete the Yazoo Backwater Pump Project as soon as possible.”
“The passage of this resolution means a lot to our farmers and ranchers,”Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick said. “It shows our members that we have support from the state Legislature to get the pumps installed. It is past time to finish the pumps!”
Forty-one percent of the continental United States drains down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Mississippi Levee Board. Because of this, the United States Congress granted the federal government the responsibility to manage Mississippi River flooding under the Flood Control Act of 1928.
Under this Act, Congress also established the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project which issued the federal government to build levees and floodwalls, floodways, channel improvement and stabilization, and tributary basin improvements. When work began on this project, it became clear the construction cut off drainage outlets for interior basins. To compensate for this, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1936, which authorized the federal government to manage river basins flowing into the Mississippi River, including the Yazoo Basin.
Congress issued the Yazoo Backwater Project in the Flood Control Act of 1941 following the removal of the Eudora Floodway from the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project. The plans for the Yazoo Backwater Project include four major components – levees, a connecting channel, drainage structures and pumps.
In 1969, the Steele Bayou and Little Sunflower Drainage Structures were completed. When water stages on the Mississippi River side of the levee are lower than stages on the basin side, these gates are opened, allowing storm water to pass through. When water stages on the Mississippi River side of the levee are higher than stages on the basin side, these gates are closed, preventing flood waters from entering the South Delta.
The Yazoo Backwater Levees, completed in 1978, run along the west side of the Yazoo River from the Mainline Mississippi River Levee to the West Guide Levee. The connecting channel of the Yazoo Backwater Project, also finished in 1978, connects Big and Little Sunflower Rivers, Deer Creek and Steele Bayou in order to push water from the Delta to one point at the Steele Bayou Drainage Structure.
The original Yazoo Backwater Project plan called for pumps to be installed at this point to pump excess rainfall trapped on the landside of the levee and drainage structures over the closed Steele Bayou Drainage Structure gates into the Mississippi River during high water situations.
Unfortunately, the Yazoo Backwater Project pumps have yet to be installed. In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the Yazoo Backwater Project under the authority of the Waters of the United States rule, halting any proceedings to install the pumps.
If installed now, the Yazoo Backwater Project pumps would cost approximately $220 million and take four years to complete. The Mississippi Levee Board believes more than $372 million in damage would have been prevented from 2008 to 2018 if the pumps had been in place.
“Myself and MFBF staff will continue to monitor this project until it is completed,” McCormick said. “We are here for our farmers, ranchers and fellow citizens who continue to be impacted by this man-made flood.”
To view the entire resolution, click here.