A massive pumping project to relieve chronic flooding in the South Delta is as close to reality as it has been in 35 years.
During the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency dropped its opposition and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers produced a study showing that the main argument that stopped the project in the past — the projected decimation of vital wetlands — didn’t hold water.
So near to victory after decades of work, proponents of the project, however, now have to worry whether the EPA under the new Democratic administration might reverse course again and kill the Yazoo Backwater pumps.
Peter Nimrod, chief engineer of the Mississippi Levee Board, doesn’t believe the pump project is currently on Joe Biden’s radar. The president has a lot of other pressing concerns on his plate, most notably the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the economic devastation it has spawned.
Nevertheless, Nimrod expects that it’s just a matter of time before the national environmental groups that have stubbornly opposed the project — no matter how much Mississippi flood-control leaders have tried to appease them — will be trying to bend the ear of Biden or his underlings.
The Greenville-based levee board, the Delta Council regional development group and the state’s congressional delegation, among other supporters, believe they have the evidence and scientific data to prove their case and debunk that of the environmentalists.
“If we are given the opportunity to explain this project to everyone, this is a great project not just for the economics, but it is a great project for the environment,” Nimrod said.
For starters, what’s on the drawing board is not the same plan that was stopped in 1986 by a change in funding rules, then again in 2008 by an adverse decision from the EPA.
The proposed location of the massive pumping station has been moved 8 miles northeast, from Steele Bayou in Issaquena County to Deer Creek in Warren County. The new location will make the pumps more efficient, Nimrod contends. The plan has also added several features to actually improve conditions for fish, birds and other wildlife that thrive in the wetlands. Chief among them is the proposed installing of 34 groundwater wells in the northwest part of the Delta. These would pump water into the tributaries that feed into the Yazoo Backwater area when there are seasonal drops in water levels.
“Adding this water in the fall time is a huge deal,” Nimrod said.
Following his inauguration, Biden quickly signaled that the agencies he oversees might not be as accommodating to business interests as was Trump.