That giant sucking sound being heard across the Mississippi Delta is the vanishing pump project designed to control river flooding in the region.
A ruling from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a Nov. 16 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, claims that the project fails EPA’s 2008 Clean Water Act standards. EPA director Michael S. Regan promised to keep working “to find a solution to flooding in the Yazoo backwater area that is both durable and environmentally protective.” (Translation: There’s a man here from the government to help you.)
The roar of the lament about the derailed project – predicted to cost some $500 million — has been palpable. There is a reluctance here to declare which side of the argument over controlling backwater flooding is right and which is wrong, considering the fuss’ longevity of 80 years.
This seems like Biden-Trump, CNN-FOX and Ole Miss-State, only it’s not. This is worse – it’s a live-die and economic ruin-economic survival battle, say organizations from both pro and con on the issue.
“It is unfathomable that we find ourselves here again fighting for what is rightfully and legally ours and is the only … feasible solution to backwater flooding – the pumps. It is past time for the EPA to put people before politics and stop subjecting South Deltans to this environmental injustice,” said Paul Hollis of Rolling Fork, a leader of the regional Delta Council advocacy group and a Mississippi Levee Board commissioner.
Mississippi U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a pumps booster, called the ruling “an absolutely terrible day for the people who live in the Mississippi Delta.”
Her fellow Mississippi U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker said that the project “has been held up by bureaucrats and red tape” since its inception. That’s true, but they have worked both sides of this aisle.
The environmental group Earthjustice praised the EPA decision as a “powerful affirmation that science and law, not politics, ultimately prevail. (This) upholds bedrock environmental laws and restores crucial safeguards for some of the nation’s richest wetlands.” The Mississippi Sierra Club also has been a vocal foe of the pumps project.
I know there is wonderment about this fight. In its simplest form, how to alleviate floodwater resulting from Mississippi River and Yazoo River overflows in the southern Delta region, basically north of Vicksburg, is the issue. This has been an almost annual occurrence for the past decade, affecting upwards of half a million acres of prime farmland, some as rich as the Nile Valley’s, and causing millions of dollars in property damage to homes and businesses.
Myriad social issues have crept into the backwater war, mainly “environmental injustice.” Pump opponents contend that low-income and minority communities will be the ones adversely impacted.
Wicker, however, says that with the pumps, those groups will better be able to build and keep properties. Pro-pumps farmers claim their losses will be less, allowing them to hire more workers. There also is the projected high cost to all taxpayers for maintenance of the gigantic pumps.
It’s unfortunate that a strong South Delta voice on the subject has been stilled due to the recent death of Deer Creek Pilot newspaper editor Ray Mosby, who stayed abreast of it for two decades from his Rolling Fork post. Mosby was quoted by the publication Southerly in 2019 as saying politicians often inflated the number of homes that are damaged or destroyed by the epic floods. He denied being against the pumps. “We’re against lying to get the pumps,” Mosby said.
I suspect there’s been a lot of that in 80 years – from both sides.
–Mac Gordon is a native of McComb and a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at [email protected]
by Mac Gordon, Gazette Contributing Editor
on December 14, 2021, 1:10 pm