New Study Indicated Louisiana Parishes with Highest Flood Risk in the Nation

A new study laying out nationwide flood risks is highlighting a problem that Louisiana residents know all too well: the risk of flooding. According to an article from The Advocate, this study not only highlights several Louisiana parishes as having the highest risk of flooding nationwide, but the analysis is serving as further evidence for State officials advocating for flood mitigation and coastal protection projects.

The new study by the First Street Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit organization, uses a formula that assesses threats to residences, commercial properties, and roads to determine the top 20 counties across the United States at the greatest risk of flooding. Of these 20, eight are Louisiana parishes within the top 15, seven parishes are in the top 10, and Louisiana Parishes comprise the top four parishes in the nation. Cameron Parish sits at the top of the list at No. 1, followed by Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard parishes.  Also noted throughout the study are Plaquemines, Terrebonne, St. Charles, and St. John the Baptist.

The head of research and development at First Street, Dr. Jeremy Porter said of the survey, “our primary goal was just to raise awareness around the infrastructure at risk in these communities so people knew. If their home, for instance, was raised 20 feet — they’ve adapted their home for the area they live in – their power plants or their police stations or their fire stations may still be at risk. What we are advocating for is the use of proper flood and risk tools for understanding that risk.”

Louisiana state officials are said to be using models very similar to the one utilized by First Street to plan and prioritize various flood mitigation projects through the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and the Louisiana Watershed Initiative.

The CPRA has a coastal master plan that is kept up-to-date every six years. In this plan are various outlines for how the state of Louisiana would spend $50 billion over a half-century, or fifty years, on levees, flood control structures, shoreline protection, and coastal restoration. Planning of this magnitude and longevity has positioned Louisiana as a leader among those areas of the nation looking to address land loss and flood protection on such a massive scale. This, of course, comes as a result of vast portions of the state eroding away or being inundated by the Gulf of Mexicoat shockingly quick rates.

Looking forward, concerns have arisen as to whether or not the CPRA’s coastal master plan can be financed. CPRA executive director Bren Haase told Advocate reporters, “having that single vision for our coast has been very, very beneficial if you think back to the BP oil spill, past storms that we’ve had to deal with and now looking ahead at recovery from Hurricane Ida. As the federal government is looking to invest in infrastructure and recovery across the nation, not just here in south Louisiana, I think we’re well-positioned to make a very, very good case that ‘hey, we know what we want to do, it’s the right thing to do and it’s worth funding.’”

Outside of the CPRA’s coastal master plan is the Louisiana Watershed Initiative, which has been aiming to improve the method in which Louisiana deals with flood risks. The initiative does this by approaching the issue from the standpoint of a watershed instead of a city or parish, thus dividing the state into eight watershed regions and prioritizing projects under a scoring system.

Already, the Watershed initiative has selected over $400 million in projects, ranging from an east Slidell ring levey to massive drainage improvements to be made in Ascension Parish. This intel comes from the head of Louisiana’s Office of Community Development, Pat Forbes, who oversees the initiative. He was quoted as saying, “the watershed initiative is not just about spending the $1.2 billion that (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)sent us for mitigation activities. It’s about changing the way that we manage flood risk.”

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East Baton Rouge Parish to Purchase Land to Prevent Flooding

In an ongoing effort to prevent flooding, East Baton Rouge is considering purchasing several hundred acres of land as a method of holding rain runoff, according to The Advocate.

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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