HOLLY BLUFF, MS (WLBT) - The First baptist church in Holly Bluff was loud and full of voices, like a Sunday sermon. But Tuesday afternoon, most of the voices weren’t praising the powers at be, instead they were questioning their flood issues.
Representatives from Senator Roger Wicker, Cindy Hyde-Smith’s office, and the Mississippi Levee Board held a community meeting and listened to homeowners in the community and what they currently have to go through.
Flooded fields, where crops would be are under water in some spots. Deer roam freely, and cause traffic, sometimes accidents. And now many of them are asking what the cost of damages could be after the flood waters subside.
The word “frustration” was used many times by the residents of Holly Bluff.
Peter Nimrod with the Mississippi Levee board gave a presentation that broke down why Yazoo County and many others are going through the rise in water levels. Nimrod says 4093 square miles which is miles 2.6 million acres of the Delta floods and it has no where to go when the the flood gates are closed.
“The people of Holly Bluff are under a lot of stress right now. They’re seeing water they haven’t seen since 1973. They’re scared, they’re worried, they’re worried about their farmland, their homes," said Nimrod. “We close off the the Steel Bayou drainage structure and the water back up the Yazoo River. The Delta’s water, the backwater we keep referring to, is really when we close off that drainage structure you basically have a bath tub and the stoppers in. So if it rains in Clarksdale or Greenville , MS all that water got to go somewhere. It goes to the bottom of the funnel. And it just stays there 'cause there’s no where to pump the water over the levee."
The Yazoo Backwater Project was also another topic of the meeting. According to the Levee Board, in 1978, the project was completed as far as the levees and the gates, but the final part of the project’s completion would have been the addition of pumps. They says pumps were never added, and that was because of backlash from environmental groups for decades.
Nimrod says that Mississippi has been behind on some things compared to other states, and one of them is “pumps."
“Every other state in the lower Mississippi Valley have pumps to pump water over levees during this kind of situation on the Mississippi River. The one that doesn’t have one is the Mississippi South Delta. We’re actually the largest basin, we have the most area. And we’re the one with the most damage. It’s been a long story. It was authorized back in 1941. We thought we were starting construction in 1986, then something got messed up. Then we a final report out and then the EPA vetoed the project. We had a lot of swing and misses," said Nimrod.
The levee board say as of right now they are at the mercy of the Mississippi River. The community now has to wait for the river level to go down and open the gates up so they can let water out of the delta. What they say, wont happen for a month. They currently are sitting behind a closed gate without a pump.
“If you had a pump you could control that,” said Nimrod. “You could have elevations that you can keep water down to. People could know how to drive the highway to get to their house. They know their homes not going to get flooded, they know the farmland isn’t going to get flooded to the point where they could put a crop in the ground and make some money."
He also says politically, the population is small in this area of the state which is why flooding and lot of the farmers, and community issues are being overlooked. Especially since a pump project installation would cost a “couple $100 million.” That number faces opposition from senators from other states, says Nimrod. “Why would they want to spend that in Mississippi south delta.”
The backwater is at 96.2 feet and Vicksburg gauge is at 51.5 feet. They fear that it might rise to 98 feet in the future.
People rose out their seats, after hearing how others from New York or L.A. thought the idea of the community not having that kind of money for pumps insulting.
Some people said they already moved because of the work and the hardship they’ve gone through in the past.
Jimmy Hudson was at the meeting and was the first out of his seat to address the men on stage. He lives on the banks of the Sunflower River, which borders one part of his property. He’s in the middle of backwater flood. What he calls a “slow event," where the water can flow towards the Mississippi and has a ring levee around house.
He also has displaced animals from the wooded areas by his home because they have nowhere to go.
“It’s real scary and makes you feel so small and so insignificant. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop this event from happening,” said Hudson.
He says out of 82 counties Sharkey County is the second least populated county and everyone there is Ag-related. They are all tied to the land in some way.
Hearing that a pump being in that county years ago might have fixed their water woes made him even more frustrated with the situation the community is currently in.
“So every flood that’s occurred in this area since 1978 was preventable. And you’re talking about over $350 million worth of damage has occurred because we hadn’t put in this $100 million pump. It’s very frustrating too, to lose your neighbors and your property. And all of those things are preventable. So it’s real frustrating," said Hudson.
The water levels are high, but Mississippi Levee Board has Holly Bluff listed int the “protected area” of the levee. Nimrod says if they didn’t have that levee, or the flood gates they could be at or over 100 feet at this point.
He says it’s looking like an uphill battle. They will be looking at the EPA’s veto of the pumps from 2008 lifted. If the Army Corps of Engineers have the “go ahead” they can get started on the project, they say, immediately. Congress will have to fund the project though. They had the money in place last year but the authorization language wasn’t liked by Congress.
“This (flooding) can go on for another month nobody would ever know. These people are alone down here, looking for help and at the moment we can’t give it to them because we do not have the pump,” said Nimrod.