Washington, DC -- In a sweeping victory for clean water, natural flood protection and taxpayers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today killed the disastrous Yazoo Pumps project, which would have cost $220 million in federal tax dollars and drained up to 200,000 acres of the South’s most precious wetlands (an area equal to the size of New York City, including all 5 boroughs). The veto, which is the EPA’s first since 1990 and only the 12th in the agency’s history, puts an end to an environmentally catastrophic drainage project first dreamt up by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1941.
“This is an historic victory for the environment and taxpayers and we applaud EPA for its decision,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “EPA was under a tremendous amount of pressure to greenlight this boondoggle but it stood firm and did the right thing.”
“But we can’t stop here. Bold actions to protect rivers and wetlands must become the norm to help communities thrive in this era of global warming. Healthy rivers and wetlands are the first line of defense against damaging floods. They also provide clean water and vital fish and wildlife habitat that are more important than ever for thriving communities.”
American Rivers urged EPA to continue standing up to the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent the Corps from destroying small streams and wetlands that are critical to providing clean water and protecting communities from floods.
"The Yazoo Pumps would have seriously damaged wetlands that have the capacity to store roughly 200 billion gallons of floodwaters,” Wodder said. “To eliminate this free natural flood protection would have been unconscionable, especially when we know that climate change is causing more frequent and intense storms and floods.”
Wetlands filter pollution and provide clean water. They also help buffer communities from damaging floods. Even comparatively small expanses of wetlands can have a profound impact on reducing flooding. EPA reports that a single acre of wetland can store 1 to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater. Scientists estimate that in general just 4 to 5 percent wetland coverage in a watershed would reduce peak floods by 50 percent. Returning just 7 percent of the Mississippi watershed to wetlands would be sufficient to prevent extreme floods. More extensive wetland restoration would produce even greater benefits.
It is far easier and cheaper to protect and maintain wetlands than to destroy them and attempt to restore them later. Wetlands in the continental United States save an estimated $30-plus billion in annual repair costs due to flood damage.
The science also shows that destroying wetlands releases harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Forty-three percent of wildlife listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act rely directly or indirectly on wetlands for their survival. Wetlands are particularly important to birds and mammals when they are breeding or migrating.
“EPA’s decision to kill the Yazoo Pumps should embolden communities that want to scrap expensive, destructive 19th century approaches like draining wetlands, and instead adopt proven, cost-effective solutions that work with nature,” Wodder said.
American Rivers led the charge to stop the Yazoo Pumps boondoggle and named Mississippi’s Big Sunflower River one of America’s Most Endangered RiversTM in 2002, 2003 and 2004, because of the enormous damage the world’s largest hydraulic pumping plant would have caused to the river.
For more information on the Yazoo Pumps Project visit: www.americanrivers.org/yazoo
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.