Analysis: Mississippi pump proposal evokes strong reactions

Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson

Farmers, rural shopkeepers and Mississippi politicians from both major parties are speaking out to support a proposed flood control project that would pump water from parts of the south Delta.

Posted: Nov 15, 2020 7:06 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Farmers, rural shopkeepers and Mississippi politicians from both major parties are speaking out to support a proposed flood control project that would pump water from parts of the south Delta.

Environmental groups remain opposed to the Yazoo Backwater Project. They've said for decades that it would be an expensive boondoggle that would hurt wetlands to help agribusiness.

On Oct. 16, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a draft of a new environmental impact statement that supports the pump project. It was a reversal of a previous report that had said the project would hurt wetlands.

The Corps held an online public hearing about the Yazoo Backwater Project on Nov. 10, and it is gathering public comments through Nov. 30.

“We now better understand how the project ... can be operated to balance the system to the benefit of aquatics, wildlife and human interaction in the area,” Col. Robert Hilliard, commander of the Vicksburg district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said in a video shown during the hearing.

Kent Parrish is the Corps' senior project manager for the project. He said the Yazoo Backwater Area covers 4,093 square miles (10,601 square kilometers), starting just north of Vicksburg and going up to where Mississippi Highway 12 bisects the Delta. The Corps has said the area has experienced significant flooding during nine of the past 10 years, including a 2019 flood that lasted several months.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in April 2019 that the agency would reconsider the decision that blocked the project. The draft published by the Corps of Engineers in October said new research shows the project is “not anticipated to convert any wetlands into non-wetlands.”

Five environmental groups — American Rivers, Audubon Mississippi, Healthy Gulf, Mississippi River Network and Mississippi Sierra Club — said in an Oct. 16 news release that the Corps of Engineers is proposing an “irresponsible and ineffective project that could put tens of thousands of people at risk, threaten the integrity of the Clean Water Act and degrade hundreds of thousands of acres of globally significant natural resources.”

“This area is home to 17 state and federal threatened and endangered species and is a critical pitstop for migrating fish, birds and wildlife that travel along the Mississippi River Flyway. Losing these wetlands will hurt the entire Mississippi River," Kelly McGinnis, executive director of the Mississippi River Network, said in the news release.

The Delta Council, which represents agriculture and business interests in the northwestern part of the state, has been among the outspoken advocates of the pump project. In a Nov. 5 newsletter, the group's president, Paul Hollis of Rolling Fork, urged people to contact the Corps of Engineers and express support.

“We know that the extreme environmental organizations are going to be generating comments, and it is important that we stand toe-to-toe with them," Hollis wrote.

Mississippi politicians have been pushing the Trump administration to revive and fund the project that has been estimated to cost more than $400 million. The Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the project in 2008 under Republican President George W. Bush, with the agency saying “adverse impacts on wetlands and their associated fisheries and wildlife resources are unacceptable.”

The late Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, once called the pumps “one of the worst projects ever conceived by Congress,” and opponents say pushing water out of the south Delta could cause worse flooding downstream along the Mississippi River.

Among the Mississippi politicians supporting the project are Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith and Gov. Tate Reeves, who are all Republicans; and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, whose congressional district includes the areas that would be most affected.

Hyde-Smith spoke by video Thursday to an online meeting of the Delta Council, also urging members to submit comments in favor of the pumps. In a statement that might not end up being true after President Donald Trump leaves office, Hyde-Smith said: “Regardless of who's running Washington, this project will go forward with enough public support.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 481397

Reported Deaths: 9395
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison32996486
Hinds30973586
DeSoto30491353
Jackson23650348
Rankin21267368
Lee14867220
Madison14145271
Jones13365226
Forrest13125238
Lauderdale11538305
Lowndes10418176
Lamar10184130
Pearl River9055219
Lafayette8218137
Hancock7501112
Washington7033150
Oktibbeha6937124
Monroe6491161
Neshoba6463201
Warren6439163
Pontotoc626593
Panola6219126
Bolivar6105144
Marshall6102121
Union573086
Pike5590136
Alcorn536090
Lincoln5297131
George470072
Scott456096
Leflore4468140
Prentiss445277
Tippah443680
Itawamba4430100
Adams4403116
Tate4351101
Simpson4324112
Wayne431566
Copiah431087
Yazoo423086
Covington414792
Sunflower4137104
Marion4087104
Leake397186
Coahoma394298
Newton368775
Grenada3553104
Stone350659
Tishomingo334689
Attala324886
Jasper313762
Winston303591
Clay295273
Chickasaw286665
Clarke280290
Calhoun265140
Holmes261887
Smith249549
Yalobusha220547
Tallahatchie218850
Walthall210558
Greene207845
Lawrence206033
Perry199353
Amite198152
Webster195942
Noxubee178239
Montgomery172054
Jefferson Davis167642
Carroll161937
Tunica152734
Benton142035
Kemper138440
Claiborne126634
Choctaw126326
Humphreys126337
Franklin116628
Quitman103626
Wilkinson101536
Jefferson88833
Sharkey62820
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 781915

Reported Deaths: 13798
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1109621748
Mobile706071213
Madison49359617
Baldwin36054485
Shelby35933311
Tuscaloosa33540540
Montgomery32996673
Lee22337218
Calhoun20935400
Morgan19666329
Etowah18890454
Marshall17575274
Houston16598377
St. Clair15287298
Limestone14442184
Cullman14441252
Elmore14299259
Lauderdale13395278
Talladega12781234
DeKalb12102233
Walker10495328
Autauga9611135
Blount9595154
Jackson9293152
Coffee8764174
Dale8485171
Colbert8448180
Tallapoosa6557177
Escambia6541117
Covington6409165
Chilton6314142
Russell600655
Franklin5744101
Chambers5350133
Marion4748116
Dallas4672185
Clarke459177
Pike458895
Geneva4333116
Winston420292
Lawrence4099108
Bibb405680
Barbour342969
Marengo324783
Monroe316652
Butler316088
Randolph302855
Pickens300673
Henry299657
Hale290483
Cherokee286752
Fayette276473
Washington245048
Crenshaw236768
Clay226264
Cleburne225750
Macon218057
Lamar192541
Conecuh180146
Lowndes170758
Coosa167533
Wilcox159636
Bullock148642
Perry136336
Sumter124136
Greene120542
Choctaw73326
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Fall has started off exactly as you would have anticipated and it looks like we should have a number of dry days still ahead, but this isn’t a permanent switch, because heat is pegged to return.
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