Vicksburg, Miss. (Mississippi Today) – Warren County resident Lauren Stubblefield, a flood victim and seventh generation Mississippian, stood in front of the Mississippi River Commission and painted a vivid image of her home on Floweree Road.
“Imagine your favorite place in the world,” Stubblefield said. “Close your eyes and imagine that place filling up with several feet of the most toxic, stagnant, nasty water you can imagine. And imagine that water sitting there for months as everything rots in it. Imagine the animals that starve because you can’t feed them.
“Then imagine going back to that place when the water goes down. Imagine the filth and the mold, the fungus, the smell. If you haven’t experienced that, you need to go up just a few miles up the road. And you can see it all. That is the truth that we are living.”
Other flood victims, local and state leaders joined Stubblefield during the commission’s annual low-water inspection on Wednesday to air their feelings about federal flood control policies, mainly focusing on the months of backwater flooding in the Delta and the deaths of marine wildlife in the Gulf.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who was the first to speak, criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ reliance on the Bonnet Carré spillway in Louisiana.
When the Mississippi River is high enough, the Corps opens the spillway to prevent flooding in New Orleans and surrounding areas. However, the opening also allows freshwater into the Mississippi Sound, killing species such as oysters, crabs and shrimp. Until this year’s openings, the Corps had never opened the spillway twice in a year, and never in consecutive years.
“Not one of us in Mississippi thinks this is a one-off event,” Hosemann said. “Not one of us. We think this will occur again. The time to address these issues is today. You have the authority to do that.”
Hosemann, presenting alongside the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, cited subsequent losses totaling 95 percent of the state’s oysters, 56 percent of shrimp, and 50 percent of blue crab.
Hosemann requested the Corps conduct an environmental impact statement of the Mississippi Sound, as well as a study of how the Morganza Floodway — a seldom used spillway that diverts water into the Atchafalaya Basin — could help mitigate the damages.
“The amount of water that’s coming down the Mississippi River is historic,” he said. “We recognize that you have to operate the entire valley from Iowa to Mississippi. However, when you get to the Morganza spillway, you have the flexibility to divert some of that flood water.”
A ‘pumps’ decision awaits
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awaits new data on the Yazoo Pumps in order to review it’s 2008 veto of the project, state and local officials echoed Stubblefield’s impatience.
The flood took two lives in June, when two people drowned trying to escape the waters in Holly Bluff. Peter Nimrod, chief engineer of the Mississippi River Levee Board blamed the tragedy directly on the EPA’s veto of the pumps.
“Those two who drowned are on your hands, EPA,” Nimrod said.
About half a million acres went underwater from the flood, including about 230,000 acres of farmland. Andy Gipson, the state commissioner of agriculture and commerce, said that the state’s economy took a $500 million hit this year from crops that could not be planted.