3 May 2008

Yazoo Pumps

RS asks my opinion on this project:
Floods in the Mississippi South Delta imperil lives, homes, roads and farming, and prevent school buses, police and fire protection, and emergency medical personnel from reaching the homes of many South Deltans. The Project will protect the community from devastating flood damage, fulfilling a 60 year promise by the federal government.
What are the benefits and costs?
Floods do not discriminate by race, age or economic sector. Flooding imposes high costs to individuals and communities; lives are threatened and sometimes lost, homes and businesses are damaged, and community services are disrupted.

The Project– which will represent the fulfillment of a 60-year-old promise by the federal government – is estimated to cost $220 million. Economists agree it will return $1.50 in benefits for every $1 spent on the project.
...and guess who's in charge of the project? The Army Corps of Engineers.

My knee-jerk reaction is that any new Corps project is a bad idea (All the good ones were gone by the 1950s.), but let's take a quick look at these additional factors:
  • Pump water off land to prevent flood damage -- Redirecting flood waters pushes the problem elsewhere and interferes with the river's evolving route. Bad idea.
  • 1.5 benefit/cost ratio -- 1.5 BC ratio is not nearly high enough -- economists (and others) can get you any BC ratio you want, depending on how you price unlikely events (e.g., Katrina), calculate recreation values, pain and suffering, habitat, etc.
  • lots of emotional rhetoric and federal dollars -- The rhetoric on this one is really over-the-top and the federal money makes it even more likely that other people's money will be wasted on non-solutions to deeper problems.
Opposition to Yazoo.

Bottom Line: Yazoo sounds like another boondoggle that will over-promise and under-perform. (And it may already be dead. EPA opposes it.) I suggest spending $220 million on buying out riverfront property and letting the river flood naturally.

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