In the past few weeks, heavy rains have drenched our state and caused flash floods in Bolivar, Tallahatchie, and Calhoun Counties. In Jackson, high water from the Pearl River has repeatedly threatened metro residents, including last year when floods damaged 600 homes. On the coast, residents are frequently subject to floods during hurricane season. Yet the most persistent and destructive flooding has occurred in the South Delta, where a lack of flood control has put residents at constant risk of devastation.
Delta Flood Control Is Long Overdue
South Delta residents will never forget the flood of 2019, in which over half a million acres went underwater for months. Floodwaters surged up to 98 feet, engulfing roads, highways, and 231,000 acres of farmland – and kept many residents from leaving their homes. According to a Mississippi State University study, residents paid on average more than $42,000 out of their own pockets in response to the flooding, often building makeshift levees as a last resort. Many families were displaced, and two people tragically lost their lives.
Providing flood control to the Delta is a matter of urgent need and also basic fairness. Across the river in Arkansas and Louisiana, communities enjoy modern flood control systems, including backwater pumps that are essential to removing rainwater trapped between levees. This is what the South Delta currently lacks. Congress approved backwater pumps for the Yazoo Basin in 1941, yet 80 years of government delay have kept the project from moving forward.
Congress Hears from Delta Resident
Recently I invited Tracy Harden, a longtime resident of the South Delta, to testify before a Senate subcommittee to share how flooding has impacted her life and community. Tracy is the owner of Chuck’s Dairy Bar, a popular milkshake and burger joint in Rolling Fork that caters to farmers, farm workers, hunters, and students. Tracy shared about the devastating effects on her customers, some of whom have been unable to find farm work because of the floods. She also told me the 2019 flood did more harm to her business than the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many small businesses in the Delta, the constant threat of flooding makes it more difficult for her to grow her operation and hire new workers. Even her children are hesitant to stay in the area because of the uncertainty created by flooding.
Yazoo Pumps Have Cleared Major Hurdle
The good news for Tracy and for every Delta resident is that flood relief is finally within sight. Since I first came to Congress, I have worked with local stakeholders, the Army Corps of Engineers, and federal officials to get the Yazoo Backwater Pump Project built. Earlier this year, the Army Corps finally approved the project. Some legal hurdles still remain, but this major milestone brings the pumps one step closer to completion.
As the Army Corps recognized in its formal review process, these pumps would not only protect residents but would also be a win for wildlife and the environment. The installation of groundwater wells would lead to better water quality, and nearly 2,500 acres of cropland would be reforested, providing quality habitats for fish and wildlife. Because of these and other benefits, the project has received backing from groups like The Nature Conservancy of Mississippi and the Farm Bureau. As the legal process plays out, I am working to ensure this project moves forward so that the federal government’s 80-year-old promise to Mississippi can finally be fulfilled.