Louisiana divvied up more than $60 million in funding Thursday for shovel-ready flood control projects as part of the state’s $1.2 billion Watershed Initiative.
East Baton Rouge Parish received roughly $14 million of that funding to purchase floodplains along Bayou Duplantier and Ward Creek, preventing future development there that could worsen flooding. It also received $4.69 million to build "green infrastructure" along Cypress Bayou.
The Council on Watershed Management also gave approval Thursday to fund up to $100 million in buy-outs and elevation programs in flood-prone areas of Denham Springs, Scott, West Monroe and Washington Parish. That's in addition to programs underway in Lake Charles, St. Tammany and Vermillion parishes.
The 16 low-risk, high-impact projects that received funding Thursday are so-called “no regret” projects, meaning that there’s sufficient data to show they won’t send floodwaters into neighboring communities. They were the highest-scoring projects in a pool of 41 applications submitted by local governments.
“There were a lot of projects that looked like they had merit but didn’t have the science or data to ensure that there wouldn’t be unintended consequences,” said Alex Carter, the staff lead at the Watershed Initiative.
The awards include $1.25 million for drainage pump improvements in the Bonadona/Cataldo subdivision in Ascension Parish; $3.3 million for pump station hardening in Slidell; $659,000 for drainage improvements in Maringouin; and $2.85M for an East Slidell ring levee.
Another $40 million will be dispersed across the eight watershed regions to fund projects that didn't win out in the first round.
“Last week, heavy rains once again inundated flood-weary communities throughout Louisiana, underscoring our state’s increasing flood risk and urgent need for better flood risk reduction. Today, I’m heartened to announce relief is on the way,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement. “Through the Louisiana Watershed Initiative, we are working to fight flooding on a large scale with immediate and long-term solutions. These projects move us in the right direction.”
In March, Edwards' administration selected 15 other projects for $163 million in funding, including $42 million to construct channels along La. Hwy 22 in Ascension and Livingston parishes; $5 million to revitalize the LSU Lakes in Baton Rouge; and $10 million for residential elevations and buyouts in St. Tammany Parish.
The $1.2 billion that funds the Louisiana Watershed Initiative was appropriated by Congress in 2018 following the historic floods two years earlier that devastated much of south Louisiana. Lawmakers in April criticized the initiative's slow roll-out, but officials blame the federal government, which didn't make the funding available until September of last year.
Several legislators appeared before the Watershed Council Thursday to question why their regions didn't win out in the first round of funding. State Rep. Buddy Mincey, a Denham Springs Republican, noted that 94% of Livingston Parish was flooded, but didn't get any of the $60 million Thursday.
"This $1.2 billion came from the federal government for the most severely impacted areas," Mincey said. "We want our fair share from the program."
Livingston will, in the end, likely get a significant chunk of funding from the program. It's one of 10 parishes that the federal government identified as most impacted and distressed by flooding – and where at least half of the $1.2 billion must be spent. That also includes Acadia, Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Livingston, Ouachita, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Vermillion and Washington parishes.