Trump Administration Goes After Clean Water Act

Published 10/16/2020  |  American Rivers
Big Sunflower River | Photo by Stephen Kirkpatrick

Today, the Trump Administration officially put forward a proposal to build the Yazoo Pumps – a shockingly irresponsible project that will put tens of thousands of people at risk, threaten the integrity of the Clean Water Act, and degrade hundreds of thousands of acres of globally significant natural resources.

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Take action today and tell the Trump Administration not to build the Yazoo Pumps!

I Oppose the Yazoo Pumps

The Yazoo Pumps was vetoed under President George W. Bush in 2008 because it would drain or damage globally significant wetlands in the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta, the historic Mississippi River floodplain north of Vicksburg, MS. Despite the veto, the Trump Administration is proposing the move forward with constructing the Yazoo Pumps under the auspices of “flood control.” However, the project will actually increase flood risk for most people living and working in the area.

Communities in the Yazoo River batture land north Vicksburg, MS will see a lot more water as much as 9 billion gallons of water will be pumped into the Yazoo River every day during flood events. Just downstream of the pump’s proposed location, the International Paper Mill has two wastewater treatment ponds in the Yazoo River floodplain that are protected by low berms. Should those berms give way, the residents in downstream Vicksburg, MS could be flooded with toxic water from the paper mill’s treatment ponds.

Yazoo Backwater Levee Remaining Freeboard 2019 Flood (0.3ft) (Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division Presentation on 2019 Mississippi River Flood, Joey Windham, Chief Watershed Division)

And, horrifyingly, the Yazoo Pumps would actually threaten to flood the very people it is falsely touted to protect. By pumping an additional 9 billion gallons of water per day into the Yazoo River during flood events the project would actually threaten the integrity of the Yazoo Backwater Levee. This levee was within inches of overtopping during the 2019 Flood. If the Yazoo Backwater Levee fails, the entire Mississippi-Yazoo Delta would flood, threatening more than 41,000 people and almost 19,000 structures.

The decision by the George W. Bush Administration to veto the Yazoo Pumps safeguards vital wetlands in the Delta National Forest, Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and countless other conservation areas in the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta. These wetlands represent some of the last remaining bottomland habitat that is still partially connected to the Lower Mississippi River and provide critical habitat to hundreds of fish and wildlife species. The Mississippi-Yazoo Delta is in the heart of the Mississippi River flyway – a migration corridor that conveys a vast array of migrating species traveling the globe.

  • 29 million birds use the area during their fall and spring migrations. This includes 20 percent of the nation’s duck population!
  • American eels migrate from their breeding grounds in the mid-Atlantic Sargasso Sea to North American rivers, using floodplain wetlands, like those in the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta, to grow and mature on a rich diet of frogs and insects.
  • Even tiny ruby-throated hummingbirds and monarch butterflies can be spotted loading up on nectar-rich flowers before flying across the Gulf of Mexico to their over-wintering grounds in South and Central America.

In addition to migrating species, this area is important to several at-risk species, including the federally-threatened wood stork, the federally-endangered pallid sturgeon, the federally-threatened American alligator, and the state-endangered Louisiana black bear. The Louisiana black bear is the species renown for inspiring the Teddy Bear. President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot one that had been tied to a tree on the banks of the Big Sunflower River in the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta – the very same area at risk today! The bear was recently removed from the federal threatened and endangered species list thanks, in part, to reintroduction efforts in the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta.

1902 Clifford Berryman cartoon

While President George W. Bush’s administration vetoed the project because of the catastrophic environmental impacts, it’s not just fish and wildlife who need these wetlands. The Mississippi-Yazoo Delta is also a critically important aquifer recharge zone for the Mississippi River Valley Alluvial Aquifer, part of the Mississippi Embayment, which provides drinking water for 8 million people in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Irrigation withdraws from this aquifer system to support cotton production in the southern states has already caused some of the most severe groundwater declines in the U.S. The Yazoo Pumps would siphon off water from wetlands that are critically important for the aquifer’s recharge, potentially exacerbating the region’s already significant groundwater depletion.

Big Sunflower River Water Quality Monitoring by John Ruskey

The Clean Water Act veto authority has only been used 13 times since the Act was authorized in 1972 to protect and restore the nation’s water resources. This decision to build the Yazoo Pumps, if allowed to proceed, would neuter the Clean Water Act veto authority and raises the specter of the 12 other projects that have been vetoed. This includes projects like Spruce No. 1 Surface Mine – one of the largest mountain top removal project ever conceived – and the Two Forks Dam – one of the largest water storage projects ever proposed in the West.

The Yazoo Pumps is a shockingly irresponsible project. Instead of building the Yazoo Pumps, investment is needed in projects and programs that will protect people from flood losses. These alternatives include buying out homes, elevating or flood-proofing infrastructure, and purchasing wetland easements from farmers. Local leaders need to work with state and federal agencies to find long-term affordable housing for poor residents who may be displaced to avoid climate change fueled flooding. Investing in these economic and sustainable options would provide financial security for residents while protecting and enhancing the valuable natural resources of the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta.

Big Sunflower River Home on Stilts by Stephan Kirkpatrick

Take action today and tell the Trump Administration not to build the Yazoo Pumps!

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I Oppose the Yazoo Pumps

The post Trump Administration Goes After Clean Water Act appeared first on American Rivers.

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