Stop the New Madrid Levee Project

What is the New Madrid Levee Project?

The New Madrid Levee Project is a proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a new 60 foot high, quarter mile long levee and two huge pumping plants along the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri. The Corps wants to spend $165 million taxpayer dollars on this project to allow intensified use of the New Madrid Floodway, an area that provides vital fish and wildlife habitat and flood protection.

The New Madrid Floodway is an integral part of the Mississippi River ecosystem, and provides vital fish and wildlife habitat. The area is particularly important because it is the last place where the Mississippi River connects to its backwater floodplain in the state of Missouri. The river and floodplain connection allows the regular exchange of water, nutrients, and energy that is the ecological driver of this vital area.

The New Madrid Levee would sever this vital river-floodplain connection with devastating impacts. It would drain more than 53,000 acres of wetlands – an area of wetlands larger than the District of Columbia – and eliminate the most important backwater fisheries habitat in the Middle Mississippi River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposes the Project because it “would cause substantial, irretrievable losses of nationally significant fish and wildlife resources, and greatly diminish rare and unique habitats found in southeast Missouri.”

The New Madrid Floodway also provides critical flood protection. During extreme floods, water is diverted into the Floodway’s 130,000 acres protecting dozens of river communities in Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky. It has always been a challenge to operate the Floodway in a timely manner, and increasing use of the Floodway will make it even harder to do so. In 2011, Missouri sued to stop use of the Floodway and the resulting delay led to catastrophic flooding in Olive Branch, Illinois where 50 homes were destroyed. After the Floodway was activated in 2011, water levels at Cairo Illinois dropped 2.7 feet in just 48 hours.

The Environmental Protection Agency has the authority – and the responsibility – to stop the New Madrid Levee Project under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. This provision allows EPA to veto a project that would have an unacceptable adverse effect on fish and wildlife. A Clean Water Act veto would stop this project once and for all.

The National Wildlife Federation is working with ninety conservation organizations and dozens of community leaders to convince the Environmental Protection Agency to use its Clean Water Act authority to stop the New Madrid Levee Project. More than 20,000 members of the public have already added their voices to this campaign.

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