Thursday, August 8, 2019

Guest Column: Delta Deserves Real Solutions, not False Hopes of Yazoo Pumps

Communities in Mississippi’s South Delta deserve real solutions for reducing flood damages, not false hope pinned to the Yazoo Backwater Pumps.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ own analyses make the case against the Pumps. In March, the Corps admitted under the best-case scenario, only 32 percent of the backwater area would receive any flooding relief with the Pumps. All lands at or below the 92.3-foot elevation, or 68 percent of the backwater area, would continue to flood even with the Pumps in place – so just how many homes and farm fields would truly be flood-free?

This reinforces what the Corps made clear in 2007; the project is not designed to protect communities from flooding. Instead, 80 percent of project benefits would be for agriculture by draining tens of thousands of acres of wetlands to intensify farming.

The Corps has highlighted a very real risk for those downstream too. The agency found that flood stages would rise by a quarter of a foot in the Yazoo River right after the Pumps are turned on. The Corps has not studied the risk Vicksburg and other downstream communities face from pumping 9 billion gallons of water a day into the already swollen Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers.

The George W. Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency then conducted its own rigorous analysis before vetoing the project in 2008 based on the Pumps’ environmental impacts. EPA also raised major concerns about the project’s economics and found that less damaging, more affordable alternatives to floodplain management had not been adequately considered.

That analysis was substantiated by the Fish and Wildlife Service and many others. Following a legal challenge by the local Levee Board, the veto was upheld by a federal District Court in Mississippi and affirmed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. EPA’s final veto determination deserves a read by those who readily dismiss it.

Then there’s the Pumps’ astronomically expensive $440 million price tag (adjusted 2018 cost using the Corps’ formulas). Exempted from any local cost share in 1996, the Pumps are a 100 percent federal taxpayer-financed project that must compete with every other project on the Corps’ $100 billion project backlog.

Instead of pinning the South Delta’s hopes on the costly, destructive Yazoo Pumps that at best will protect only a third of the area flooded, and will take years to build, backwater communities should take advantage of existing federal programs that can provide relief right away.

Communities across the U.S. are using these commonsense, cheaper measures that could provide immediate, cost-effective benefits for people's lives, property, and livelihoods in the backwater area.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance and Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant Programs can be used to elevate existing homes and roads, flood-proof, or do voluntary buyouts and relocations for those that experience repetitive flooding. Other post-disaster programs through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can help communities rebuild their infrastructure with funds available to reduce the risk and damages of future storms and flooding.

For example, Louisiana created a homeowner assistance program as part of the state’s response to destructive floods in 2016, which offered voluntary buyouts for those living in especially flood-prone areas so they could move out of harm’s way. Homes on purchased properties will be demolished and the land restored back to green space that will help store future floodwater.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers another set of conservation programs that can provide relief for affected agricultural landowners. The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) compensates farmers who volunteer to take their land out of crop production and restore it back to wetlands.

The backwater communities deserve an affordable, practical, and science-based plan for managing the risks that come with being in the Mighty Mississippi’s floodplain. In fact, EPA used input from an interagency task force and broad group of stakeholders to develop such a strategy for the Lower Yazoo River Basin in 2000.

That alternative plan to the Yazoo Pumps relied on a combination of small-scale flood protection measures, conservation easements, targeted flood-proofing, sewage and drinking water infrastructure improvements, and economic revitalization to bring real and lasting benefits to the South Delta. Another bonus of the strategy – it’s a bargain compared to the Pumps’ $440 million ballooning cost.

While Congressman Bennie G. Thompson has urged the deployment of existing federal programs to provide immediate relief for his constituents, this economical, forward-thinking plan has received little support from other Mississippi leaders.

Now is the time to implement these proven, pennies-on-the-dollar solutions that are available right now to help the South Delta recover and plan for the future. The time for the expensive, ineffective Yazoo Pumps’ has come and gone.

This guest column is submitted by Jill Mastrototaro, policy director of Audubon Mississippi, Andrew Whitehurst, water program director with Healthy Gulf, and Louie Miller, state director of the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club. 

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

This should be a good one.

Anonymous said...

What a load of crap. I have come to conclude that anytime someone speaking relative to politics offers a "common sense solution", they are trying to sell you a bill of goods. I could type for hours about the fallacies associated with their common sense alternatives, but I will not. Anyone with any knowledge of how these programs work, should see right away that this is snake oil of the dirtiest form.

Anonymous said...

Don't these solutions just boil down to stop farming the Delta and leave?

Anonymous said...

Little doubt the next thing Louie tells us is that the pumps will endanger the indigenous South Delta Swamp Thing.

Anonymous said...

"This guest column is submitted by Jill Mastrototaro, policy director of Audubon Mississippi, Andrew Whitehurst, water program director with Healthy Gulf, and Louie Miller, state director of the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club."

These wacko's don't have any idea other than they are against the pumps. The proposed level the pumps would cut on are at 97'(landside). That would equate to around a 5.5' drop in the water level from where the crest was in the backwater. This article is pure propaganda from these groups. At the meeting in 2008, they provided reasons as to why it was a good idea and the Corps and the Levee Board refuted EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. One minute it is about the animals, the next is it's about the cost. They just don't want them and will lie, cheat, and steal to have them shot down. Also, downriver, the river stage would rise about .10 of an inch when the pumps are cut on. Contrary to their article, it has been studied.

Anonymous said...

The biggest advantage of the pumps is to maintain the structure at Steele Bayou, if it fails, you really will have a mess. Besides any mention of Bennie immediately tells me whoever wrote this is full of it.

Anonymous said...

The water has to go somewhere. If one lives in an area that is prone to flooding, then don’t be surprised when there is a flood.

Anonymous said...

Almost gave this some consideration until the part where he actually attributes to Bennie Thompson something forward-thinking.

Anonymous said...

The are is low floodland. It has flooded for thousands of years. The landowners knew this when they bought the land or built houses there. Now they want taxpayers to bake them out while creating worse flooding problems down river. Don’t buy property on flood plains.

Anonymous said...

There is far, far more to consider.

Ret. Maj. Gen. Don Riley commanded the corps' Mississippi Valley Commission while it was analyzing the Yazoo Pumps' environmental impact. He agrees with Mississippi officials that "the benefits could have been seen just in the last couple of weeks."

Riley argued the amount of water the pumps would send down the Yazoo River toward the Mississippi was nothing compared to what already flows in The Big Muddy.

"It's 14,000 cubic feet per second versus 2 million," he said. "It may add an inch, but with that massive river flowing high, it won't be noticeable."

Anonymous said...

Have it on good authority that the previous Corps studies did not come close to modeling the scale and duration of what happened this year. Trump has communicated that he supports a new look. Those opposed to the pumps know the truth about the devastation that results from prolonged inundation. The damages from the back water flooding is going to cost billions of dollars. The authors of this column are part of an effort trying to stall the re-look long enough to see if Trump gets defeated in 2020.

Anonymous said...

This is like publishing a piece by PETA as to why eating beef is bad. Purely BS. This is paid for propaganda with no real basis for it. They are saying the people that make up the south delta don't matter. There are pumping stations all up and down the river, why not Mississippi? With the largest bottomland forest in the national forest service under water for this long in this heat and possibly risking damage maybe even being killed, you would think they would care about that. With the proposed level the pumps would cut on, 200,000 acres would still be underwater before they turn on.

Anonymous said...

Jill Mastrototaro sits on the Land Trust for Louisiana Advisory Board. She's conflicted out.

Anonymous said...

This is like publishing a piece by PETA as to why eating beef is bad. Purely BS. This is paid for propaganda with no real basis for it.

Bingo. When the tree-huggers and bunny-huggers are talking about a "rigorous analysis," you know the fix is in.

Anonymous said...

What "existing federal programs to provide immediate relief" are they referring to in their article?
These exact groups are always asking for more "studies" or "additional analysis" while providing no real plan of their own.
Seriously, what federal programs are they referring to?
I'd imagine the authors are reading these comments since they got you KF to publish it.
Hopefully they will respond with an answer.

Kingfish said...

One of them thinks the Rez was a reaaaally bad idea. Of course, he probably would prefer it if we all went back to living in caves. Another Rousseau.

Anonymous said...

piss ass delta planters are the largest welfare recipients in the country! most have been receiving crop subsidy entitlements for years off the gov't teat. yes farm subsidies are from the same pot as food stamps, TANF welfare checks.

Anonymous said...

When the Mississippi river becomes higher than the Yazoo river, you can not pump the water out of the delta. I don't know why this is such a hard concept to grasp!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how many actual people are in the affected area? Or is this really about farming on marginal land?

Anonymous said...

11:43#1-I think there’s a lot that you don’t understand.

Cynical Sam said...

It's co-authored by the Sierra Club; you know, those tree hugging left-wing wackos from the left coast. Take their rhetoric with a grain of granola.

Anonymous said...

The "Corps" has spent BILLIONS of dollars for questionable reasons for decades. Nothing new here...move along.

Anonymous said...

To quote Will Munny (Clint Eastwood, "Unforgiven"), "Deserve's got nothing to do with it"...right before he shot Little Bill (Gene Hackman) in the face with a double-barrel...

If this had been dealt with sensibly and pragmatically many years ago, either by a less "snout in the trough for a certain few" flood control - wait, no, you cannot "control" it - mitigation scheme or better yet, simply telling folks who insisted in remaining, buying, developing, building, etc. in a flood plain that they were on their own literally come hell or high water, these current (pardon the pun) folks would not have shot themselves in ass with a however-many-millions-of-gallons-a-second enema.

The bottom line is that if you don't want Clint to shoot you in face, don't treat hookers badly or support those who do and if you don't want to be flooded out, don't build your fucking house in a flood plain. Seems so simple even a dumbass could understand it.

Marilyn Brookes said...

I don't know how many people are affected, but I do know that my friend's house has been reachable only by boat since February.

Anonymous said...

Attn 12:20 Please expound.

Anonymous said...

KF, your "guest" who wrote this column need some correct information. The backwater crested north of 98.2'(landside). The proposed elevation the pumps would turn on is around 86-87'(landside), not 92.3. At the proposed elevation where the pumps would turn on 200,000 acres would still get water and replenish the wetlands(one of their arguments). Now it is about the money. They need to pick a talking point and stick with it. With the water between 87' and 92' that is a 5+' drop in the water level. Given the flat elevation of the delta, that is a TON of difference. Given their stance, they are saying that the death of wildlife and the chemicals in the water they are ok with it. They are also ok with these people's livelihoods put on hold for almost a year. They like to say "its just 3-4 wealthy farmers who would benefit. That is simply not the case. Look at the local store owners, the hardware stores, the majority African American population who's jobs revolve around farming. Its way bigger than 3-4 wealthy farm owners. If they have factual information, then use that. These "drain the wetlands" scare tactics are just that, scare tactics. The state of MS owns several hundred thousands of hardwood forests and land that is a huge financial benefit for the forest and hunting in its vast wildlife management areas. These areas will be closed or severely damaged for the next few years due to this. Their timber will most likely receive some damage, if not die due to the prolonged water. The state just had a huge land grab in the Steele Bayou area to expand outdoor recreation that will take a huge hit in its value. This is tax money spent that is not getting a return on investment, plus lots of dead animals. But the hippies in Jackson and out of state know better than the people who use it everyday. It is a man made project where we were promised the pumps. Its time they finish the project that has already been funded.

Anonymous said...

There was a really good article concerning the pumps in Delta Wildlife magazine recently. Anyone interested in this topic should read it. Anyone opposed to the pumps is either blinded by their preconceived notions or willfully ignorant.

Make My Day said...

1:17. Is that the only movie you have ever watched? So your solution is just to not have anybody build, live, and use an area nearly 75% as large as the entire state of Rhode Island? Your solution is to not farm 250,000 ac. of the most fertile land in the world? Your solution is to let untold numbers of deer, turkey, raccoon, possum, alligator, and other animals just die? Your solution is for the federal govt. to not do what it said it would do in 1941? Your solution is to not build the pumps like they have done in numerous other locations along the MS river from Minn. to La. that prevent catastrophic flooding? Your solution is to have billions of $$$ in damages on a regular basis rather than spend millions of $$$ once to prevent it?

Even a dumbass can understand that is a dumbass solution.

Anonymous said...

Response to 1:40. Briefly, the area that we’re talking about here is not directly flooded by water backing up from the yazoo river, but is a sump area “protected “ from flooding by the Mississippi and Yazoo levee system. Hence the need for pumps similar to those already in place in other states. The elevation of the land around Rolling Fork is approximately 10 feet above the land directly across the river in Louisiana, where pumps protect them from flooding.

Anonymous said...

Their information is incorrect. The pumps would cut on at elevation 86-87'(landside), not 92.3. At that elevation there is still 200,000 acres flooded. These people do not understand that water on the ground is different than water 2-6' in someone's house for months on end. This is 110% a man made problem. Many of the people that live here have their houses on peirs, pilings, conventional foundations, and earthen hills. They are used to some water, not this. Please someone tell me the last time in our lifetime water has sat on a place for 6+ months flooded? I'll wait.

Anonymous said...

Give it some time, and before you know it will be water under the bridge.

Anonymous said...

3:47 Get used to it

Anonymous said...

3:47 In 1973. Water was up to both sides of Highway 61 all the way to Rolling Fork.

This was before Steele Bayou project. So that was just the Mississippi River flowing backwards up the Yazoo.

Anonymous said...

Farm subsidy information: https://www.openthebooks.com/map/?Map=6&MapType=Pin

Anonymous said...

5:36. Wrong. Check your facts. According to the USACE the Steel bayou flood control structure was built in 1969. But no pumps. Thats why 1973 was similar to 2019 but not flooded nearly as long.

Anonymous said...

Pump it back into the river and it becomes everyone else’s problem downstream. The flooded area includes some of the least 2 of the least sparsely populated counties in the country, including the least populated east of the MS (Issaquena). I hope we can find a solution, but dumping it on everyone else is not it. I would be more sympathetic if most of the belly aching wasn’t coming from rich white dudes that are mad that hunting season is gonna suck. Signed, sorta financially successful white dude that loves to hunt.

Anonymous said...

1:17 here, taking the bait and responding to 2:04, who asked:

"So your solution is just to not have anybody build, live, and use an area nearly 75% as large as the entire state of Rhode Island? Your solution is to not farm 250,000 ac. of the most fertile land in the world? Your solution is to let untold numbers of deer, turkey, raccoon, possum, alligator, and other animals just die? Your solution is for the federal govt. to not do what it said it would do in 1941?"

Wow, I said all that? Well, alright then. I've been to Rhode Island. Numerous times. For example, the New York Yacht Club has its primary waterfront clubhouse in Newport, which is only a 3 hour drive from midtown Manhattan and 2 1/2 hours of that drive is in NY and CT. It ain't all that big in terms of the total landmass of the US, so yeah, folks can find other locations to build, live or use for most purposes. As to the farming part, why might you guess the farmland in question is so fertile, yet deserts are not? Simply do what humans have done around the world for 1000s of years in similar locations: farm there during the non-flood periods. Given modern farming methods and more importantly, transportation, farmers don't need to live right on the land they farm and that assumes most of the land is actually small farms where the farmer might live on the farm if it were not in a flood plain. It isn't.

As to the Fed, it needs to get the hell out of the flood business altogether in most locations and for most purposes - the purpose of the Federal government is not, at least in principle, to spend billions upon billions so a select group of folks can make millions and millions, nor to keep insuring a select group of well-to-do folks who expect Uncle Sugar to keep rebuilding their waterfront homes at a ludicrously subsidized cost to them, nor any of the other schemes in which a select few benefit totally out of proportion to the public good supposedly being accomplished? That said, I do not suggest banning folks who want to take their chances from so doing, I only suggest that they should have to do it on their dime, not mine or that of any other taxpayer. Including you if you are a taxpayer.

As to the veritable menagerie you envision, most would do what they already do: not hang around in the water...well, except for the alligators, of course. Your obviously heartfelt concern for them begs the question, "just how much water is too much for an alligator?"

Wm. Gates said...

6:33. Like most people on this blog, you make comments about something you know nothing about. Contrary to what the article says, the Corp has studied the effects the pumps would have downstream. When the MS river is at 45’ there is 1.8 million cubic ft of water per second passing Vicksburg. The pumps will pump 14,000 cubic ft per second. The pumps will raise the level of the MS river less than 1/4 inch. It doesnt take a genius to figure adding 14,000 cfs to 1,800,000 cfs will not have much impact.

Ask the 465 mostly poor, struggling, living paycheck to paycheck, black and white families whose house got flooded if they care about deer season. For that matter, ask some of the rich white dudes if they are concerned about deer season. I’m sure some are, but most are not.

Seems like a sorta financially successful white dude would know a little bit more about the subject before he starts pontificating about it.

Anonymous said...

Who was the Mississippi Judge who ruled in favor of the EPA and against the wishes of the Good People of the State of Mississippi?

Anonymous said...

Wow. Judging from the acrimony and personal attacks, this must be a campaign issue. (That is, unless you or someone close to you is flooded out of their house right now, in which case your passion is understandable)

Anonymous said...

Any two bit Hydraulic engineer would tell you that the pumps are not the solution. If you pump it where does it go and is the downstream infrastructure capable of handling it. The pumps as designed only helps about 35% of the affected area. What happens when the Yazoo can't handle the flow, you probably flood Vicksburg where there are a lot more people.

Anonymous said...

So the MS Wildlife Federation wasn't the
reason the pumps were vetoed ?

#finishthepumps....what say you ?

Anonymous said...

7:31 MS Wildlife Federation lobbied and put out pieces like this from 2008-2018. They were just like Sierra Club etc.

4 Bit Hydraulic Engineer said...

6:47 AM. Obviously you are not even a two bit hydraulic engineer. See 9:23 PM. Or do just a tiny bit of research. There is plenty of factual info about the pumps out there. Or use some common sense!

Anonymous said...

9:23——of the 465 families you mention how many homes of the millionaire farmers houses actually flooded? Please name one? The poor need to be made whole and relocated to high ground. Also why don't you convert 14,000 CFS of flood water to gallons so the average person can understand. I think I heard it was 9 billion gallons (with a B) per day. In sure those on the Gulf wouldn’t mind.

Anonymous said...

@8:20 I will do a conversion

14,000 CFS = 9.0478 billion gallons per day

That is assuming constant flow over a 24 hour period.

In the engineering world, stormwater flow is generally measured in Cubic Feet Per Second.

Anonymous said...

Hey 9:23, 6:33 again. So the worst flood in 88 years damaged or destroyed 465 homes, so we need to spend $400 million in tax payer dollars to rectify it? Nearly 1 in 6 Mississippians were displaced by Katrina. By scaling your response to the backwater flood, the Fed should have built a spillway spanning the entire coast just behind the barrier islands with gates we close when a storm comes. I doubt the sorority house hair pulling in regards to the MDWF convention had much to do with displaced working class folks. I sympathize with people, but it’s a nearly 100 years flood, and I can see why people balk at the staggering cost of a project with debatable effectiveness.

Planters have crop insurance policies and can apply for federal relief. The boss men will be fine. The working class folks will admittedly have a tougher time coming back from it

Anonymous said...

I think I heard it was 9 billion gallons (with a B) per day. In sure those on the Gulf wouldn’t mind.

Are those on the Gulf pushing the Federal government to remove the other pumps already installed in Louisiana, Arkansas and other locations further north?

Anonymous said...

@9:23, South Louisianna has storm levees and pumps....

Also, MDWF didn't have anything to do with it. That is the state's law enforcement board. MWF is the wolf is sheeps clothing hosting a wildlife extravaganza and they are against the pumps.

The crux of the situation is when the levee's were put in, the entire project was funded. That means the pumps have been paid for. Not in today's money obviously, but one has to wonder where that money went.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you 8:27. Before you know it, these crazies are going to get so desperate that they start saying that we've got to preserve Sasquatch habitat just in the off chance that the Squatch MIGHT exist, or that there may be two squatch families living in the South Delta. Then again, more evidence exists for the Sasquatch's existence than does some of their environmental theories. The other day, I happened to listen to a "Coast to Coast" radio show that was recorded 21 years ago. After Art Bell and his "listeners" finished discussing Sqatches, Aliens and Ghosts, they moved on to Global Warming and how we'd all be under water by 2010. Nuff said.

Anonymous said...


Pumps will pump 14,000 cfs = 104,720 gallons per second = 9.048 billion gallons per day.

That water will be end up in the Mississippi River which flows during a flood, according to a post above, at 1,800,000 cfs = 13,464,000 gallons per second = 1.163 trillion gallons per day. (that estimate obviously varies with the river stage)

Add the 9.048 billion gallons per day to the 1.163 trillion gallons per day, and now you have 1.172 trillion gallons per day. That is an increase on 0.8%.

Anonymous said...

The cheapest solution would be a buyout of the farms and houses and it would cost far less than the pumps. The pumps would be a massive welfare program that would benefit a few dozen people and would cost many billions to build and maintain. Anyone who supports this boondoggle should never ever complain again about any poor person receiving any crumbs from the government.

Anonymous said...

5:58. Where are you getting cost of billions to build the pumps? High side estimates by the anti-pump crowd are $400 million. Cost to buy the land, 550,000 ac. at a cheap price of $3000 per ac is $1.65 billion. That does not include houses, barns, storage bins, etc. Also, where do you get it will benefit a few dozen people? You are terribly misinformed about ALL the facts. Go to deltawildlife.org and read their May 6 article about the pumps. Very informative.

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