Conservation groups sue Army Corps over approval of Yazoo Pump Project

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A lawsuit filed in federal court is challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to push forward with the Yazoo Pump Project. 

The long-awaited flood control project in the Delta received the go-ahead from the Corps in January as it signed its Record of Decision; a move that a coalition of conservation organizations, led by Earthjustice, is calling “rushed.” 

“Instead of making a decision based on the science and law, the Corps recklessly approved this ineffective, destructive, and wasteful project,” Earthjustice attorney Stu Gillespie said. “The Corps failed to inform the public about the project’s unacceptable costs and refused to consider alternatives that would provide prompt, effective and environmentally sound flood relief to communities.”

Originally vetoed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008, the project was brought up for review during the Trump administration in the midst of historic flooding in the Delta as hundreds of thousands of acres remained underwater. 

The suit argues that the Corps approved the same plan that was originally vetoed, but a news release from Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith at the time the ROD was signed detailed several amendments to the plan. 

  • A new location for the pump station, approximately eight miles northeast of the 2007 proposed location;
  • A system operated by natural gas rather than diesel to reduce the carbon footprint;
  • The installation of 34 groundwater wells to re-establish flows for fish species in approximately 9,321 acres of streams during dry periods; and
  • The acquisition and reforestation of 5,105 acres of agricultural lands for the purposes of enhancing wetlands, terrestrial, aquatic, and waterfowl resources.

The conservation groups argue that the decision to overturn the veto illegally circumvented environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, and that the project would cause harm to 450 species of fish and wildlife. 

Back in April 2020, the Mississippi Levee Commission argued the exact opposite, saying “we don’t see how any pro-environmental organization with accurate information could continue to oppose the Pumps.” 

Proponents of the project say that if in place, the pumps could’ve significantly reduced the impact of the flooding in Yazoo Backwater Area, which covers 4,000 square miles from Vicksburg to where Highway 12 bisects the Delta. Over the past decade, the area has experienced several flood events including the 2019 flood that left 544,000 acres submerged, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. 

Once underway, Hank Burdine with the Mississippi Levee Commission has estimated that the project could take up to four years to complete. 

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