This story was produced in partnership with Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to civic engagement and public dialogue through service journalism.
REDWOOD, Miss. — The chest-deep water currently surrounding Stormy Deere's house is expected to remain there until at least July. The home she lives in with her husband is safely elevated on a mound of dirt and brick, but she has had to take a boat to reach it since early March.
Deere, 44, loads her dogs on the boat twice a day when she must take them for walks, though she leaves the smallest one at home for fear of the alligators that live in these waters. This way of life, she said, is untenable.
“Emotionally, I have good days and I have bad days,” she said. “Some days I’m ready to go, some days I look outside and I want to despair. I want to just lie down and die. But that’s not an option.”
Record rainfall has led to the persistent flooding this year. That’s caused the Mississippi River at nearby Vicksburg to remain above flood stage, which is the water level that can cause massive flooding, for more than 114 consecutive days. That’s the longest span since 1927, according to the Mississippi River Levee Board. The water has also reached the highest level since 1973.
And while 2019 has been extreme, flooding in the Yazoo Backwater Area, as this part of the state is known, happens almost every single year. Since 2000, there have only been five years when it hasn’t flooded here.
Families that call this southern part of the Mississippi Delta home have put up with the standing water for months. They have attempted to draw attention to their plight via community meetings and social media — all to little avail.
The river has now laid waste to 550,000 acres of the Mississippi Delta, including 225,000 acres of farmland, and has affected more than 500 homes. But it is expected to rise again this week, entering a major flood stage, according to the National Weather Service, and those waters won’t recede until at least July.
“It is unbelievable just the vastness of this, and the hundreds of homes that are flooded, and the highways that are underwater, and the hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland that are underwater,” Peter Nimrod, chief engineer of the levee board, said.
Dubbed “the forgotten flood” by locals, it comes amid natural disasters that have caused billions of dollars of damage across the Midwest in the past several months and in turn claimed the national spotlight.
The difference is that in this part of the country, many residents believe there is a solution to their persistent, yearly flooding woes — if only the government would cut through the red tape to enact it. Locals like Deere believe that an unfinished Army Corps of Engineers project known as the Yazoo Pumps, a potential drain for the levee system that protects the Delta, would hold back the floodwaters that regularly threaten almost 20,000 people here.
Environmental advocates and longtime civil servants who have worked on the project, however, argue that the pumps come at a high cost, potentially draining tens of thousands of vital wetland acres that supports one of the most unique wildlife habitats in the country.