Yazoo Pumps – Is this zombie project finally dead?

Wetlands proposed to be filled by Yazoo Backwater Pumps project
Wetlands near Big Sunflower River proposed to be filled by failed Yazoo Backwater Pumps

The Yazoo Backwater Pumps project is a 77 year old Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) project that would have resulted in one of the world’s largest water pumping plants in one of the most sparsely populated regions of the country. The pumps would, at last estimate, cost taxpayers $220 million with at least $1 million in yearly upkeep.  

The project would destroy between 67,000-200,000 acres of wetlands in the river bottoms of the Lower Yazoo basin in the Mississippi Delta. Marketed as a flood control project, the Pumps were actually intended to create marginal farmland.  These wetlands now flood about every other year, and drying them out permanently would erase flood protection for residents along the Mississippi River and remove high quality stop-over habitat for the millions of ducks, geese, shorebirds and other migratory species that use them.

This is literally the project that just won’t die. We first thought the project was dead when the EPA, under George W. Bush, vetoed the project over environmental concerns (only the 11th veto in the EPA’s history). We were then convinced it had been killed when the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that veto in the face of a legal challenge. But, low and behold in 2018 the project again reared its ugly head when the Mississippi’s Senators tried to attach a “rider” to the Senate Omnibus Appropriations bill needed to keep the government running. That rider would have simply required the Corps to build the project immediately with no further environmental or economic review or opportunities for the public to comment.

Now we understand that the rider didn’t make it into the final bill – so we again think it is dead on arrival. We want to give a big shout out to our partners at NWF, and to the nearly 2,000 advocates that sent letters to their Senators (1,000 from GRN members alone), for mounting a powerful campaign of opposition to resurrecting the Pumps project. Congress heard us and decided to remove the Yazoo Backwater Pumps project from the final bill. 

GRN and its partners have always known that projects are hard to kill once they are proposed. But this ridiculous revival was truly a desperate attempt at foregoing all procedural and legal hurdles to shove a proven bad idea into an omnibus bill--pork barrel waste at its worst. Hopefully, the third time’s a charm and this defeat of the Yazoo Backwater Pumps project is the final stake in the heart of this zombie boondoggle project. 


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