The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held a press conference earlier this week regarding the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumps Project where EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the EPA’s blessing of the proposed project and determined it was not subject to the EPA’s 2008 Final Determination which vetoed a similar project.
Many impacted community representatives attended, as well as state and local officials, including Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, Mississippi Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Director Chris Wells, Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Andy Gipson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Mississippi Valley Commission Director Colonel Robert Hilliard, EPA Regional Administrator Mary Walker and EPA Chief of Staff Mandy Gunasekara.
Prior to the press conference, Wheeler participated in a briefing with USACE on the Yazoo Backwater Pumps Project. McCormick also attended the meeting.
“Finding a long-term solution to the flooding of the Yazoo Backwater Area will allow the impacted community and environment to prosper and grow,” Wheeler said. “EPA stands ready to continue to work with the U.S. Army Corps, the entire Mississippi congressional delegation and countless local officials and community groups who are committed to finally finishing this important work.”
During the press conference, Wheeler emphasized EPA’s continued commitment to working with USACE as they seek to provide a long-term, viable solution to flooding in the Yazoo Backwater Area. In nine out of the past 10 years, the Yazoo Backwater Area has experienced significant flooding, threatening the lives and property of people in the region. Many of the communities in the Mississippi Delta qualify as Environmental Justice Communities, where attention to environmental degradation continues to be neglected causing the economic investment in these communities to be impacted for decades.
“This announcement has been a long time coming, and I am so proud Farm Bureau had a part in it,” McCormick said. “We are looking forward to seeing the pumps finished so that the people of the South Delta can prosper.”
In May 2020, EPA accepted the USACE request to act as a cooperating agency as the agency worked to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumps Project. The agency participated in two cooperating agency meetings with USACE that focused on new data and assessment protocols. As a cooperating agency, EPA submitted comments on USACE’s SEIS on November 30, 2020.
In December 2020, the USACE submitted an SEIS that would move the pumps from the Steele Bayou area to the Deer Creek area.
“Environmental protection is a shared responsibility, and EPA Region 4 enjoys the strong relationships we have built with our partners in Mississippi to advance this goal,” said EPA Regional Administrator Mary Walker. “From our support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts to address devastating flooding to our work with the Mississippi Farm Bureau to advance sustainable agriculture, EPA works diligently every day to ensure a cleaner, healthier environment for all in Mississippi.”
“The proud people of the South Delta are forgotten no more,” said EPA Chief of Staff and native Mississippian Mandy Gunasekara. “The collective efforts of this community alongside new information has allowed the US EPA to move the pumps project forward, which once complete will provide overdue protections for the local people, environment, and wildlife.”
Hilliard said once funding is in place and final planning is done, the project would take approximately 4 years to complete.
There is concern the Biden Administration could stop the project before it gets started. Wheeler believes the facts prove the pumps are needed no matter who is president.