For more than a decade, those fighting against a massive pumping station to relieve flooding in Mississippi’s South Delta have said they only want science and law to prevail, not politics.
Problem is, though, politics influences the interpretation of both science and of law.
And it has again, with the latest reversal by the Environmental Protection Agency that has put an unfulfilled promise of flood control in the Yazoo Backwater region again in jeopardy.
A year ago the EPA flipped in the opposite direction and cleared the way for the $400 million project to go forward, provided Congress came up with the funding for a pumping station capable of moving floodwaters in the “bowl” of the South Delta over the levee and into the Yazoo River at the rate of 14,000 cubic feet per second. At that time, EPA officials said its 2008 veto that killed the project no longer applied since the plan had been retooled to address environmental concerns, including moving the pumping station to a different location.
This week, a new regime at the EPA said that rationale by the Trump administration was flawed and had ignored the recommendations of the agency’s own staff.
The latest reversal, while disappointing, is not all that surprising. Donald Trump was more business-friendly than Joe Biden, and the Republican’s administration was more willing to listen to the farmers who have seen their croplands go under water year after year. The environmentalists have Biden’s ear. As a result, when pump proponents produce data, seconded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that the pumping project and its mitigation plan would produce a net benefit for the environment, the Biden administration was inclined to reject it.
What’s often overlooked, though, by the pumping project’s opponents is a simple question of fairness.
When the flood-control plan for the Lower Mississippi River Valley was updated some 80 years ago, it had features that were supposed to ensure no part of the affected area got left out. That promise was reneged on for the South Delta.
As a result, that one mostly poor, thinly populated part of the country is paying the price for keeping others along the Mississippi River and its tributaries drier. The South Delta has become everyone else’s safety valve in times of high water, putting not only cropland in that part of Mississippi in danger but also homes and wildlife itself, and not just once in a while but almost every year.
The Yazoo Pumps Project would address this inequity. It has taken more than a decade of constant work by proponents to win over the support of members of both parties and to get the EPA to reconsider its opposition.
It is disappointing that all of this work, with the change of administration in Washington, has come for naught and once again a promise has been broken.
- The Greenwood Commonwealth