VICKSBURG, Miss. - Mr. Jaime A. Pinkham, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works who also serves as the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, along with Mr. David Leach, P.E., Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Project Planning and Review), visited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Vicksburg District, Aug. 25, 2021, to learn more about the Yazoo Backwater (YBW) Project.
Vicksburg District leadership and partners briefed Mr. Pinkham and Mr. Leach about the effects of repeated flooding to the YBW area and the current science behind the long-term effects of flooding.
“We are appreciative of Mr. Pinkham’s visit to Mississippi,” said Vicksburg District Commander Col. Robert Hilliard. “With flooding being a persistent problem in the area, we hope to shed light on the value of the pumps for the communities, people, and local economy.”
Mississippi Valley Division leadership in attendance were Commanding General Maj. Gen. Diana Holland, Director of Programs Mr. Eddie Belk, Director of Business Directorate Mr. Jim Bodron, and Executive Assistance Mr. Charles Camillo. Vicksburg District leadership in attendance were Commander Col. Robert Hilliard, Deputy District Engineer Ms. Patricia Hemphill, Deputy of Programs and Project Management Mr. Jacob Brister, and Senior Project Manager Mr. Kenneth Parrish.
Mr. Nathan Jones, Vicksburg District GIS specialist, showed drone footage of the 2019 flood at Eagle Lake.
Flooding has occurred nine of the last 11 years in the area. The 2019 was the worst since 1978, with two deaths attributed to the flooding, inundating 548,000 acres of land and 686 homes, as well as adversely effecting wildlife over six months.
Mississippi Levee Board Chief Engineer Peter Nimrod briefed the history of the Yazoo Backwater Project and talked about the benefits of building pumps to alleviate flooding in the area. The day’s events also included a brief on Environmental Justice by Mr. Troy Constance, Chief of USACE Regional Planning and Environment Division South.
Engineering Research and Design Center (ERDC) experts Jacob Berkowitz, PhD and Dr. Jack Killgore, PhD spoke about low dissolved oxygen in floodwater and wetland impacts of flooding and groundwater monitoring wetland studies which allowed for additional analysis of water levels in the soil.
Mr. Pinkham and Mr. Leach heard personal testimonies from three members of the local community: Mr. Anderson Jones, Mr. Sam Matthews, and Ms. Victoria Darden. Each relayed how the repeated flooding has affected their homes, families, communities, and livelihoods.
“We need help,” said Mr. Jones. “I’ve been going through this since 1973. But 2019, I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
The visit ended with a tour of the southern end of the Mississippi Delta, beginning with a stop at the Steele Bayou Control Structure. Next, the group drove through the Eagle Lake and Valley Park communities to see the previous flood damage from 2019. Another stop included a trip through the Delta National Forest to view a colony of pondberry shrub listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The Yazoo Backwater Project, of which the pump project is a part, was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1941. The project’s other features, including the Yazoo Backwater Levee, a 15-mile-long connecting channel and the Steele Bayou, Little Sunflower and Muddy Bayou control structures, were completed in the 1960s and 1970s. The pump project is the only feature that remains unconstructed, and the Yazoo Backwater Area is the only major backwater area in the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project that does not have a pump.
The Record of Decision was signed Jan. 15 by USACE Maj. Gen. Diana Holland, Commanding General, Mississippi Valley Division. USACE publishes Record of Decision for Yazoo Area Pumps Project
The USACE Vicksburg District is engineering solutions to the nation’s toughest challenges. The Vicksburg District encompasses a 68,000-square-mile area across portions of Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana, that holds nine major river basins and incorporates approximately 460 miles of mainline Mississippi River levees. The Vicksburg District is engaged in hundreds of projects and employs approximately 1,100 personnel.