Though the project is still in its early stages and doesn’t yet involve landowners, East Baton Rouge Parish has collected nearly $45 million to preserve 540 acres of floodplain areas across the city-parish. The funds were allocated from both federal hazard mitigation and the Louisiana Watershed Initiative, a 2016 recovery grant.
The aim of the city-parish to purchase the vast acres, including the 200 acres of low-lying swamp along Bayou Duplantier, is partially to block the lands from being developed. If the goal of the purchases is to ultimately limit the flooding in the area, then new developments bringing the installation of new asphalt and concrete would undercut those efforts as these materials cause rain to run off and not be absorbed by the ground. Outside of merely sitting on these lands, another central aim is to create retention ponds on these acres, potentially easing ongoing flood problems.
Local area flooding has continued to be a hot topic for the state ever since more than 1,200 homes in East Baton Rouge Parish alone were inundated by the storms of mid-May. City-parish Transportation and Drainage Director Fred Raiford told reporters that weather patterns tend to indicate that severe rains are happening more and more frequently, and local leaders need to adapt as a result.
Raiford believes that these future detention and floodplain conservation areas can also help to reduce the risk of the downstream impacts that other proposed drainage improvements could have on surrounding parishes. To emphasize this point, he provided the example of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ $250 million project to clear and “de-snag” Bayou Fountain, Ward Creek, Jones Creek, and two other waterways in EBR Parish. Despite the scope of the project, the Corps attests that the plan will ultimately speed up the flow of these waterways and not cause negative effects on the parishes located downstream, namely Ascension and Iberville Parish.
In speaking of the impact of the recent storms, Raiford said, “some of these storms, you talk about 50-year storms or 100-year storms, well, they’re happening two times, three times a year, and that ain’t good. You’ve got to look at some ways to reduce the flood risk.”
Fact Sheet estimates indicate that conserving the land around Bayou Duplantier near Lee Drive would cost the city-parish $8.5 million and the Ward Creek conservation project, which would purchase 140 acres of floodplain southwest of Airline Highway and the adjacent sides of Highland Road, would cost $5.7 million.
Both purchases will be funded through Governor John Bel Edwards’ signature $1.2 billion Louisiana Watershed Initiative that was implemented as a result of the detrimental 2016 floods. Previously, the initiative used $5 million to dredge and ultimately improve the stormwater storage capacity of the University Lakes near Louisiana State University’s campus. The effort also improved the ecology of the area in addition to decreasing the likelihood of flooding.
Presently, the University Lakes empty the waters accumulated by rainfall over a dam into Bayou Duplantier and end up draining through the 200-acres conservation area that is currently being surveyed by the city-parish. Current plans exist to clear two miles of the bayou’s drainage channel.
Often required by development rules, these detention and retention ponds are vital to the conservation of local areas that are prone to flooding, and as a result, they have become regular fixtures of newer neighborhoods and commercial developments in not just Baton Rouge but across the state.
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