Joyce Wu, Program Associate
Natural Flood Protection
Sixty-six years of opposition have not been enough for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to give up on a flood control project that won’t actually protect homes. Over the objections of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corps is continuing to push for the Yazoo Pumps—a proposal to build the world’s largest hydraulic pumping plant that will drain 200,000 acres of what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called some of the richest resources in the country. The real purpose of the project is not to protect people from flooding, but to open up thousands of acres of rich (and sparsely populated) floodplain land to more intensive farming.
Local stakeholders and federal agencies have fought against this project because it violates the Clean Water Act, violates federal policy, is not economically justified, and impacts wetlands that have already been set aside for federal protection. Furthermore, the whopping $211 million price-tag is a 100% federal cost; the Corps wants taxpayers to shoulder the entire financial burden.
Some 80% of the project’s alleged benefits are from increased agricultural production, mostly from more federal subsidies. If this project is authorized, the federal government will spend $211 million tax dollars to increase agricultural production in the Mississippi Delta, where farmers received $15.3 billion in subsidies from 1996 to 2001 and where the federal government is already actively setting aside sensitive croplands to decrease production.
Furthermore, the pumps will not appreciably save local homeowners from flood disasters. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, residential flooding is very limited in the project area. From 1979 to 2002, the National Flood Insurance Program paid out just $1.664 million in flood loss claims. At that rate, it would take more than 3,054 years to recoup the construction investment in the Yazoo Pumps.
The project itself is also fundamentally flawed. An independent analysis commissioned by the EPA revealed that the Corps’ calculations inflated the project’s economic benefits by a stunning $144 million.
The Yazoo Backwater Area is a haven for migratory birds, floodplain fisheries and wildlife. The project area is also nationally renowned for excellent deer, waterfowl, and other game hunting. In fact, the region became famous in 1902 for being the original home of the ‘Teddy Bear.’ While hunting in the Yazoo Backwater Area, President Theodore Roosevelt refusal to shoot a bear that had been tied to a tree spawned the iconic children’s toy.
The Yazoo pumps project will damage or harm 200,000 acres of ecologically significant wetlands, much of which are national park land, mitigation for earlier federal projects, or voluntary restoration projects. The Yazoo pumps will also change the hydrology of 925,000 acres of the
Moreover, both the EPA and USFWS have stated that the project should not proceed because of its colossal environmental toll, and because the project violates federal law as well as federal wetlands policy. According to the EPA, the pumps’ wetlands impacts will be 25 times greater than the combined impacts of all other projects it had vetoed because of Clean Water Act Section 404 (c) violations. This final EIS does not improve on the Draft EIS, which received the EPA’s lowest rating—EU-3, Environmentally Unsatisfactory – Inadequate.
In its Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act report, published as recently as 2006, the USFWS called the Yazoo Pumps “ecologically unsound” and “totally contrary to the Service’s goal for a balance between economic and environmental sustainability in the [Yazoo Backwater Area].”
The irony of theYazoo pumps project is that it proposes destroying natural flood protection systems in the name of flood control. Wetlands act as natural sponges, storing and slowly releasing floodwaters after peak flood flows have passed. A single acre of wetland, saturated to a depth of one foot, will retain 330,000 gallons of water—enough to flood thirteen average-sized homes thigh-deep. Coastal wetlands also reduce the size and velocity of storm surge during storms and hurricanes. The dramatic loss of these resources in the Yazoo Backwater area will have lasting and unpredictable consequences. For more information, see the USFWS fact sheet on the