The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has signed pivotal documentation to move forward with its new proposed plan for the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumps.
The Corps on Friday signed a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Yazoo Area Pump Project Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). The ROD marks the formal end of the rigorous environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and represents the Corps’ final decision to advance its new plan to reduce annual flood damages to urban and agricultural areas through a combination of structural and nonstructural features.
“With the signing of today’s Record of Decision, we no longer have a proposal, we have an approved project. It is the long-awaited green light to move forward with the Corps’ new pump proposal to at last bring better flood control to the South Delta,” Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said. “Completing this project will improve public safety, the environment, and the economy for Mississippi and the nation.”
Maj. Gen. Diana Holland, Commanding General of the Mississippi Valley Division, signed the ROD on Friday concluding, “I find that the Proposed Plan is technically feasible, environmentally justified, in accordance with environmental statutes, and in the public interest. Thus, I support the Proposed Plan as described in the FSEIS No. 2.”
In a Nov. 30, 2020, letter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that the Proposed Plan is not subject to the agency’s 2008 Final Determination, which vetoed a different plan proposed by the Corps in 2007.
“I am pleased that the federal agencies have worked together to develop a plan that can solve our critical flood control problems,” said Hyde-Smith. “We look forward to continued cooperation with the State of Mississippi and federal agencies as the project proceeds.”
Mississippi Levee Board Chief Engineer Peter Nimrod said the board commends the Corps for signing its record of decision finding that the Yazoo Backwater Pumps can proceed.
“We are grateful for the work performed by the Corps to demonstrate, again, that the Pumps are needed and will not damage the environment. We appreciate the cooperation of the Corps with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies to develop a modified Yazoo Backwater Project that does not fall within the out-of-date EPA 2008 veto.
Our community knows better than outsiders how backwater floods can devastate lives, homes, and our natural resources,” Nimrod said.
Nimrod said FSEIS-2 will have only modest impacts on the fish and wildlife resources that we treasure.
“The proposed mitigation plan offsets those impacts and provides broader benefits by including wells to supplement upstream tributaries during dry periods. Disastrous floods in the Backwater, with stagnant high levels remaining on the land into the summer, are far worse for fish and wildlife than controlling the high water in a reasonable manner,” Nimrod said. “The Levee Board remains deeply disappointed that some out of state project opponents continue to ignore the scientific data demonstrating that removal of high flood water will not damage wetlands, wildlife or fisheries. On Jan. 12, 2021, certain national groups filed a lawsuit challenging the statement in EPA’s Nov. 30, 2020, letter to the Corps that this project is not subject to the 2008 veto and can proceed. We will vigorously oppose this lawsuit or any other claims that may be brought against the project. We can only hope that, after fully reviewing the science and the facts, other organizations will agree that this project should go forward.”
Hyde-Smith serves on the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, which has funding jurisdiction over the Corps and its Mississippi Rivers and Tributaries (MR&T) program.
“I’ve considered this a priority project since becoming a Senator and I am fully committed to finishing the job in the years to come. We reached this point with bipartisan support and interagency cooperation. More of that will be necessary in the years ahead to secure additional funding, further educate project opponents, and overcome other challenges,” Hyde-Smith said.
“I expect that the Corps will appropriately allocate the funds provided by Congress back in December so that we can move into the next phase of implementation – preconstruction, engineering, and design,” she said.
The ROD marks full Corps support for the Proposed Plan, which includes:
* A new location for the pump station, approximately eight miles northeast of the 2007 proposed location;
* A system operated by natural gas rather than diesel to reduce the carbon footprint;
* The installation of 34 groundwater wells to re-establish flows for fish species in approximately 9,321 acres of streams during dry periods; and
* The acquisition and reforestation of 5,105 acres of agricultural lands for the purposes of enhancing wetlands, terrestrial, aquatic, and waterfowl resources.
The ROD concludes, “All practicable means to avoid or minimize adverse environmental effects have been incorporated into the Proposed Plan. All applicable laws, executive orders, regulations and local government plans were considered in the evaluation of the Proposed Plan. The public will be best served by implementing the Proposed Plan. This Record of Decision completes the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act process.”
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 enacted in December provides $380 million for MR&T flood control, navigation, and dredging projects. The legislation also included language allowing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use these funds to conduct work on remaining unconstructed features of authorized projects affected by recent natural disasters, such as the Yazoo Backwater Area Pump Project.