Survey of 2019 MS backwater flood helps reveal 2020 losses

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YAZOO COUNTY, Miss. (WJTV) – Mississippi State University Extension Service researchers compiled data on the overlooked costs of the backwater flood that affected the Yazoo Mississippi Delta in 2019. They surveyed residents in the five affected counties in an attempt to quantify losses.

“These findings show a terrible cost, which can be repeated each time the area floods,” said Nicolas Quintana-Ashwell, an economist at the National Center for Alluvial Aquifer Research.

At its peak in May 2019, the Backwater Flood of 2019 flooded 548,000 acres, damaged hundreds of homes and closed three highways. The affected area includes all or part of Warren, Yazoo, Issaquena, Sharkey and Humphreys counties, and flooding impacted an estimated 20,000 people.

“We found a $42,160 self-assessed loss per household in costs associated with the flood not covered by insurance or any assistance programs,” Quintana-Ashwell said. “Additionally, 69% of workers reported a reduction in work productivity due to stress and fatigue associated with the flood.”

The flood measured and quantified in 2019 continues in many places, so its economic impact is still growing. As of early May 2020, water accumulations in portions of the state’s Delta region were again causing rivers to overflow, spilling over into an estimated 200,000 acres of farmland.

“Several thousand acres have been under water for over a year and a half in places,” said Ben Lawrence, an agronomist with the MSU Extension Service. “In the areas affected by the continuous flooding, people are reliving 2019, which would have been unimaginable for two years in a row.”

The study of the 2019 backwater flood calculated an increased cost of $3,217 per resident due to extra commuting distance and time, plus an average loss of $5,183 per worker in missed time on the job.

For a report on the full study, see Extension Publication 3418, “Survey of Overlooked Costs of the 2019 Backwater Flood in the Yazoo Mississippi Delta.”

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