Yazoo Backwater Pumps Offers Promise to Mississippi Rice Growers and the Environment

Aerial view of flooded fields and farms
Backwater flooding in Valley Park, MS
Jun 11, 2020
Special to the USA Rice Daily
Kirk Satterfield is chair of the Mississippi Rice Council, vice chair of the USA Rice Council, and vice chair of the USA Rice Farmers Board of Directors.

BENOIT, MS -- Flood protection in the Lower Mississippi Valley provides many benefits, including the opportunity for hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi Delta region to be farmed without risks of affect by the volatile Mississippi River.  Areas with flood protection in the Lower Mississippi Valley continue to provide some of the richest and most diverse wildlife habitat in the country, and with flood protection that land can be managed to provide net benefits for both agriculture and the environment.    

A vast majority of the major flood control components throughout the Lower Mississippi Valley have been completed.  However, one major component of the Yazoo Backwater Area in Mississippi remains unfinished:  a pumping station.  

With all of the levee systems in place in the Yazoo Backwater Area, the lack of an operational pumping station has effectively created an increase in flooding depth, duration, and frequency.  Recent backwater floods have destroyed people’s homes while negatively impacting businesses, wildlife populations, and hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland typically planted to cotton, corn, soybeans, and, most importantly, rice. 

The Yazoo Backwater Pumps are not unique and were actually authorized in 1941, along with several other pumping plants that have since been constructed and are operational in Arkansas and Louisiana.  By contrast, more than 200,000 acres of cropland was flooded this April in the Yazoo Backwater Area that sits at a higher elevation than cropland just across the river in Louisiana that was not flooded.

The campaign to “Finish the Pumps” has been a long and hard-fought battle by many including agricultural advocates such as Delta Council, Mississippi Farm Bureau, Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, and the American Farm Bureau.  Conservation organizations, such as Delta Wildlife; the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks; the Mississippi Forestry Commission; and the Mississippi Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, also are in support and recognize the environmental benefits of the project.  

Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a Notice of Intent to issue a revised Environmental Impact Statement for a redesigned Yazoo Backwater Pump Project.  I urge all USA Rice Federation members to join the American Farm Bureau, Mississippi Farm Bureau, Delta Council, and others, in supporting the notice of intent by submitting comments at www.forgottenbackwaterflood.com or sending an email to yazoobackwater@usace.army.mil.  

The deadline for submission of comments is this Monday, June 15.  Every submission, however brief, is critical as the total number of public comments in favor of the project is heavily weighted in the process.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact fhowell@deltacouncil.org or visit www.forgottenbackwaterflood.com.