How many times have you heard that the best predictor of the future is the past? Maybe the classic adage “history always repeats itself” aptly describes the phenomenon that we are still experiencing. The Bible describes pestilence, floods, plagues, blights, and many more extreme trials that we as a people will be subjected to. I am quite certain that many of you are already of the mindset that this will be a discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic that we are all suffering from. In part it is, but in addition to impact from the Coronavirus, we have again been knocked to our knees from extreme flooding in the Yazoo Backwater Area. As I said, history always seems to repeat itself.
The impact on our environment in the affected flooded area is horrific. Even more tragic, is that the damage that has occurred over the past two years, and before, was and is entirely preventable. There will be no turkey poults following mother hens through glades of native flora in search of seeds and grasshoppers this summer. The fawn drop will be non-existent in the flooded zones, for there are no does in the entire area to give birth and replenish another age class of the whitetail. Who knows where the black bear is, for even the ridges that may provide just a few acres of dry refuge, are still submerged.
Where is the otter, the gray fox, and the raccoon? Smilax, the palmetto, Cardinal flower, Black-eyed Susan, and more plant species are so severely compromised that it may take years, if not decades, to recover from back to back years of backwater flooding. We think of “aquatic” plants thriving in wetlands, and they do, but these soils are no longer living wetlands. Due to prolonged, continuous flooding, this affected area resembles that of a barren desert. A pale silt covers what should be a pristine, vibrant ecosystem abundant with life. Not only does plant life suffer from hypoxia, but the anerobic conditions also lead to failed spawns from what few fish remain in the backwater pools of stagnant water. I will allow your mind to contemplate words that would do justice to this atrocity. Again, this was and is preventable.
I won’t even attempt to describe the economic damage from back to back years of over a half a million acres of flooded landscape. Rest assured, the combined cost for the past two years will easily top two billion dollars. To put this in perspective, the combined value of all the row crops produced in a year in Mississippi equates to just more than two billion dollars per year.
Does this open your eyes? Add to the fact that the investment for the future to prevent what we have been going through, and still are going through, would be around 200 million dollars. Of course, the investment I am speaking of is to finish the last phase of The Yazoo Basin, Yazoo Backwater, Mississippi, project of which the Yazoo Area Pump Project is a part of. In other words, “Finish the Pumps.”
Four thousand and ninety three square miles of drainage area can be managed to slowly augment flow for the benefit of both nature and humans through the affected backwater area while at the same time having an insignificant downstream impact. To put this in perspective, the additional water released from 14,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) pumps, operating at full capacity would raise the water surface at the Vicksburg gauge by less than 1.2 inches. Let me repeat, the impact would be less than one tenth of one foot, which would have no appreciable effect to downstream flooding.
Now, let’s re-visit what we are still going through due to the pumps not being finished. Think of the homes and the lives of those that have been disrupted by these devastating floods. Put yourself in their shoes and remember this can all be prevented. Think of the displaced animals that have lost their lives from being pushed out of their habitat. Think about baby raccoons swimming for their lives while trying to keep up with their mother only to succumb to exhaustion and sink into the depths of stagnation.
Picture fledgling songbirds being pushed from the nest only to land with a splash and drown instead of falling to a moist earth cushioned by plant life. Have you seen the emaciated does, which have already lost fawns due to malnutrition, lying on the roadsides because their bottomland homes are 10 feet under water? And this was to protect the American Black Bear and the Pondberry? These 2 two species are non-existent in the affected backwater area that is covered not in inches of water, but feet! So, now what?
Every cloud has a silver lining and there is hope for what has been decimated due to recurring flooding. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is announcing its intent to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Yazoo Basin Reformation Study, Yazoo Backwater Area. New, previously unavailable data indicates that the environmental impacts to wetlands and other resources from a pumping plant would be far less than calculated in the 2007 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS).
It is well recognized that backwater flooding causes severe damage to wildlife, plant life, farmland, timber, homes, and human life. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to release a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in October of 2020 for public review. After it is published, USACE will hold a virtual public comment meeting to present the results of studies. Finally, we are getting somewhere.
Additionally, from what I understand, the pumps are supported by including, but not limited to:
U.S Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith
U. S. Congressman Bennie Thompson
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves
Lt. Governor Delbert Hoseman
Former MS Governor Phil Bryant
MS legislature House resolution No. 9
MS Farm Bureau Federation
MEMA Executive Director Col. Gregory Michel
The Nature Conservancy
MS Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks
American Farm Bureau Federation
MS Forestry Commission
All my life I have waded swamps and traversed ridges in the outdoors. The allure of nature and what she represents is not only my passion, but my obsession. Whether I am sitting to a gobbling turkey or totally captivated by the colors of the Painted Bunting, I am in my element when I am enthralled by what God has provided. To witness what has happened to what many of us consider a sacred ecosystem, is almost, if not, criminal. I can only hope we will be forgiven for what we have “NOT” done by finishing this project and creating the path for restoration of life for all that depend on the Yazoo Backwater Area.
I not only invite you, but urge you, to do everything you can to support the cause and efforts of those that can make this happen. I long for the day to once again walk through and absorb what we have lost because of these floods. If there was ever a time that we can do something for future generations, this is it. Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it. #FinishThePumps!