“America’s Amazon” Saved Once and for All: A Resounding Victory for Wildlife

Last week a judge issued a decision that protects 200,000 acres of Mississippi River delta wetlands once and for all.  The decision ends the proposed Yazoo Pumps project, which would have drained an area about the size of New York City and likely would have worsened flooding for downstream communities. National Wildlife Federation and our partner organizations have fought this project for over 70 years since it was first proposed in 1941.

Department of InteriorDavid Conrad, Senior Water Resources Specialist calls this threatened area “America’s Amazon.”  Why?

  • Listen to the names of trees that grow in the area – sugarberry, sweet gum, water oaks, water hickory, and sweet pecan.
  • Millions of rainbow-colored shorebirds and migrating waterfowl call it home – purple gallinules, roseate spoonbills, green herons, snowy egrets – the list goes on and on.
  • The threatened Louisiana black bear shelters in the deeply forested region – this area is one of its few remaining habitat tracts.
  • American Alligators, descendants of dinosaurs, travel in the streams, shallow ponds, and sloughs.

To experience America’s Amazon for yourself, visit the Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge web site.

The Long Road to Stopping the Yazoo Pumps

In 2008 and at the urging of National Wildlife Federation and Mississippi Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Protection Agency invoked its infrequently used veto power [called a 404(c) veto] under the Clean Water Act to deny approval given to the project by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Roseate spoonbills
Roseate spoonbills by National Park Service

After the veto, local interests sued EPA under a legal theory that would have greatly weakened EPA’s power to review and deny harmful projects approved by the Corps.  NWF, MWF and others intervened on EPA’s behalf. 

Then, victory! The court upheld EPA’s broad authority to review and deny Corps approved projects, effectively putting the final nail in the Yazoo pumps’ coffin.

Already a Future Threat to EPA’s Ability to Veto Bad Projects?

Unfortunately, certain Congressional members have waged a sneak attack on this very 404 (c) EPA authority.  A rider to the Continuing Resolution for the budget would strip EPA of this authority.  The Yazoo pumps project demonstrates why this authority is critical to ensuring harmful projects are stopped and money is not wasted.