Pumps would have helped control flood
I recently flew my first flood rescue mission, flying my friend Hayes Dent over his ancestral home just south of Yazoo City. He can’t get there by car.
Hayes was lucky. His home wasn’t flooded. The waters were within a few feet of the front porch. As we continued the flight around the surrounding area, we came to realize how few shared Hayes’ good fortune.
In fact, at one point we were so surrounded by water, it made me worry about where we would land if our one engine quit. All the airports were flooded and there was not enough dry land to put down a plane. At 3,500 feet there was water as far as the eye could see. The south Delta is flooded.
It is sad to see the Clarion-Ledger publishing horror stories about poor people displaced by the flood. This is the same newspaper that has opposed the Yazoo River backwater pumps as a wasteful project that would hurt wetlands. Where are all these anti-pump supporters now? No wildlife survives six feet of water.
Jim Luckett should know. He manages a 25,000-acre hunting camp in Issaquena County called “Po’ Luck.” He sees the effect of flooding on wildlife up close.
“The water forces all wildlife to the few remaining high areas. Then predation goes through the roof. The wildlife is stressed. Deer abort. Turkeys don’t nest.” No telling how badly this has devastated our fragile re-emerging bear population.
Delta Council Director Chip Morgan says floods even scare away waterfowl. They like defined wetlands with three feet of water. “They won’t land in flood waters.”
As of now, there are 400,000 acres under water. Half is in the Mississippi River backwater and half is in the Yazoo River backwater. The dividing line is from Silver City and Satartia. Anything west of that line is Yazoo backwater. Anything east is Mississippi backwater.
Crop damage from both backwaters is estimated at $200 million. The Yazoo pumps would have cost $160 million. The pumps would have paid for themselves this year alone, not even counting the floods of 1991 and 1983.
The pumps were authorized 60 years ago as one of the last pieces to the comprehensive flood control management of the Mississippi River. But by the time the pumps were to be installed, the environmental movement had grown more powerful. Environmentalists saw the pumps as a threat to wildlife, an accusation that Luckett and Morgan say is simply not true.
“Who would argue that having the Panther Wildlife Management Area under 25 feet of water is good for wildlife,” Morgan says.
Luckett puts it this way: “Any time you can manage something, you can make it better. Better management is the key to everything, including wildlife management. But management was the one word the EPA and the other environmental groups didn’t want to hear.
“The levees are holding up. The system has done a great job,” Luckett added, pointing out that the system works. “But the final component (the pumps) is badly needed. The hardwood trees are going to rot from all this water.”
The arrogance of the environmentalists on this issue is hard to swallow. First of all, almost all the land below 87 feet has already been reforested and is effectively wetlands. Recreational hunting is at least as lucrative as farming. The pumps would have not harmed wetlands. But lack of a pump harms the relatively few people who manage wildlife and farm the higher ground.
Lack of the Yazoo pumps keeps these people, and the wildlife, vulnerable to periodic catastrophic floods. Floods that do nothing but hurt wildlife. But EPA officials, many of whom wouldn’t know a Gadwall from a Wood Duck, don’t care. They seem to relish the idea of driving the people out.
The water is at 106 feet. It was expected to go higher, but the Yazoo drainage area received half the normal rainfall this spring. It’s so dry farmers are having to irrigate. The problem with the Yazoo River is that it can’t drain as it normally does into the Mississippi River. The excess water in the Mississippi has made the Yazoo flow backward.
June 21 is a key date. That’s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will open the gates and allow the Yazoo to drain, like usual, into the Mississippi. Until then, any rain in the Yazoo River drainage basin will be bad news.