EPA Kills Controversial Yazoo Pumps Flood Control Project

WASHINGTON, DC September 3, 2008 (ENS) – The Yazoo Pumps Project, proposed to drain wetlands in the Mississippi Delta for flood control, will not be built. On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its final decision under the Clean Water Act to prohibit construction of the project first proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1941.

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA can prohibit, restrict, or deny using waters of the United States as a disposal site for fill material when the agency determines it will have an unacceptable effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas, wildlife, or recreational areas.

The veto, which is the EPA’s first since 1990 and only the 12th in the agency’s history, puts an end to the drainage project that the conservation group American Rivers calls “environmentally catastrophic.”

Located near the confluence of the Yazoo and Big Sunflower Rivers north of Jackson, Mississippi, the Yazoo Backwater Area contains some of the richest wetland and aquatic resources in the nation, and serves as critical fish and wildlife habitat.

Yazoo wetland provides natural flood
control. (Photo by MJN9)

After an extensive evaluation, EPA officials concluded that the project would result in “unacceptable damage to these valuable resources that are used for wildlife, economic, and recreational purposes.”

“Together with our state and federal partners we can improve flood protection and ensure environmental protection,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles. “We’re helping to identify a better project that reduces flooding, protects the environment and saves taxpayer dollars.”

The primary component of the Yazoo Pumps Project would have been a 14,000 cubic feet per second pumping station that would pump rainwater out of the South Delta during high water events on the Mississippi River.

The cost of the Yazoo Pumps Project would be more than $220 million for construction, with an annual operational cost of more than $2 million.

The EPA estimates its veto of the project will protect 67,000 acres of wetlands.

Conservation groups were pleased with the agency’s decision.

“This is an historic victory for the environment and taxpayers and we applaud EPA for its decision,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “EPA was under a tremendous amount of pressure to greenlight this boondoggle but it stood firm and did the right thing.”

“The Yazoo Pumps would have seriously damaged wetlands that have the capacity to store roughly 200 billion gallons of floodwaters,” Wodder said. “To eliminate this free natural flood protection would have been unconscionable, especially when we know that climate change is causing more frequent and intense storms and floods.”

Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Quality Program said, “The EPA truly deserves our thanks for killing this unnecessary and economically wasteful Corps of Engineers project. The natural, and free, flood protections offered by these wetlands are far more effective than an expensive pumping project.”

“The Yazoo pumps were a bad idea from the start – bad for long-term flood control efforts, bad for water quality, bad for wildlife, and bad for the taxpayers who would get stuck with the bill,” said Brian Jackson of Environmental Defense Fund. “EPA made the right decision in stopping the project.”

The Yazoo Pumps project would have been the world’s largest hydraulic pumping plant. Grumbles said the EPA now is committed to working with other federal and state agencies, and the public, to identify an alternative project for providing improved flood protection.

“Healthy rivers and wetlands are the first line of defense against damaging floods,” Wodder said. “Bold actions to protect rivers and wetlands must become the norm to help communities thrive in this era of global warming.”

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