This week marks 17 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Since that horrific storm, we have taken significant steps to prevent future disasters by improving our drainage systems, flood walls, and levees. The same cannot be said for residents of metro Jackson and the South Delta, who continue to face persistent flooding. Just last week, heavy rains caused flash flood damage across Mississippi, and in February 2020, Jackson floodwaters rose to their third-highest level on record. Meanwhile, South Delta residents have suffered repeated property damage, crop failure, and even death because of backwater floods, which were especially severe in 2019. These flood threats are not going away and require investments in new infrastructure.
Pearl River Project Nears Final Decision
I have consistently pushed for flood control projects across Mississippi, and last week was an important milestone in moving the ball forward. Last Tuesday, I met with local mayors, county supervisors, and Army Corps of Engineers officials to discuss the need for the Pearl River Flood Control Project in Jackson. This proposal, which is being reviewed by the Army Corps, would widen the Pearl River, enlarge levees, and remove chokepoints that have caused upstream flooding. This plan would protect Hinds and Rankin counties from more than $1 billion in potential damages, shielding our homes, roads, hospitals, rail, and other infrastructure. Studies show that 92 percent of the structures affected by the 2020 flood would in fact be protected under this plan.
Last year, I helped secure $300,000 for the Army Corps to complete a study of this proposal, and a final decision should be released soon. If the project is approved, Jackson area residents will benefit from safer living conditions and improved quality of life.
Biden Officials Hear From Delta Residents
South Delta residents have also suffered greatly from a lack of flood protection. In 1941, Congress promised to provide flood control to areas up and down the Mississippi River, and for the South Delta, this included a system of levees, flood gates, and backwater pumps. However, for more than 80 years, federal bureaucracy and misinformation have delayed the final component of this project – the backwater pumps. As a result, rainwaters have continually been trapped in the Yazoo Backwater Area, resulting in flooded homes, ruined crops, and billions of dollars in damage. To our great frustration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has blocked the pumps project twice in the last 15 years, leaving Delta residents vulnerable to continued flooding.
Last week, I joined Congressman Bennie Thompson and Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith to host Biden officials in the South Delta, where we held meetings with local leaders and discussed the need for the Yazoo Pump Project. We had representatives from multiple federal agencies, including the EPA, FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior, and the President’s Council on Environmental Quality. Our most important event was a listening session that was attended by hundreds of South Delta residents who shared their unfiltered stories of loss and hardship. It was clear that virtually every Delta resident in attendance had suffered immensely from the continued flooding.
These federal officials learned a lot, and I can only hope they were moved by hearing from citizens who have to live with the fear that their homes or businesses will flood every time we have a heavy rain. I was encouraged that the group seemed willing to work with us toward a solution, and I will continue to hold them accountable to that commitment until they finally deliver on the promise of flood control for South Delta residents.