In a victory for environmentalists, federal environmental regulators have nixed a flood-control project they determined would threaten wildlife.
The move – which puts the kibosh on the proposed Yazoo Pumps Project to reduce flooding between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers – is only the 12th time the Environmental Protection Agency has used its authority to scrap a project under the Clean Water Act.
The project "would result in unacceptable damage to these valuable resources that are used for wildlife, economic, and recreational purposes," according to according to an EPA news release. The agency characterized the Yazoo backwater area as one of the country's "richest wetland and aquatic resources." Among the wildlife that would have suffered were birds, deer, fish, migratory ducks and the endangered Louisiana black bear, which breeds in the area, said Brian Jackson of the Environmental Defense Fund.
"We're frustrated by this action, and we don't understand it," Peter Nimrod, chief engineer for the Mississippi Levee Board, told the Wall Street Journal. "There could definitely be litigation over this."
The Yazoo River Valley is a two-year flood plain, meaning half the area has a 50 percent chance of flooding in any given year. Any time the Mississippi River is high, it will back up into the Yazoo, Jackson said.
The plan would have cost more than $220 million, plus annual operating costs of $2 million. Its centerpiece was a pumping station that would have pumped 14,000 cubic feet of water per second.
A spokesman for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour didn’t immediately respond for comment.
The ruling was a rare opportunity to cheer for environmentalists, who have been frustrated by EPA actions under the Bush Administration, including a decision not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. The agency received more than 47,000 comments on the Yazoo Pump project, mostly from opponents, according to the Journal.
“The Yazoo pumps were a bad idea from the start – bad for long-term flood control efforts, bad for water quality, bad for wildlife, and bad for the taxpayers who would get stuck with the bill, “ Jackson said in a statement on the group's Web site. “EPA made the right decision in stopping the project.”
(Image of flooded Yazoo Backwater Area courtesy of Brian Jackson)