State and local emergency officials will gather later this month in Gray as part of an initiative to improve Louisiana’s ability to respond to floods.
A program called the Louisiana Watershed Initiative is leading an eight-stop statewide listening tour to gather input from planning officials and local leaders on ways to make flood-prone communities like Terrebonne and Lafourche more resilient.
The eight-stop tour includes an all-day meeting that starts at 9 a.m. Oct. 23 at the South Central Planning and Development Commission’s offices, 5058 West Main St. The gathering is geared to emergency-response, government and planning officials but is open to the public.
“As our state continues moving in the direction of a science- and data-driven approach to reducing flood risk for all our residents, it is critical that we hear firsthand from local experts about the challenges they face locally to inform this new approach represented by the Louisiana Watershed Initiative,” Pat Forbes, executive director of the state Office of Community Development, said in a news release. “Through this listening tour, we’ll gain an even greater understanding of how to advance our work to make informed decisions in the coming months and years that improve safety, save money and protect our state’s unique cultures.”
One of the program’s goals is to use the best science and data available to assess flood risk, then use that information to plan a more regional approach to dealing with it.
“In March and August of 2016, Louisiana residents suffered tremendous loss due to flooding events that forced us to rethink how our state approaches floodplain management and acknowledge that the status quo is no longer an option,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said when he announced the program in August. “The Louisiana Watershed Initiative represents a shift from business as usual in Louisiana and a model for how best-in-class science, engineering, and objective decision-making at a watershed level will form the basis of flood risk management across our state in the years and decades to come.”
The 2016 floods, caused by heavy rain, impacted 56 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, damaging or destroying 145,000 homes and apartments, according to FEMA estimates. Damage is estimated at more than $10 billion efforts, and many flood victims are still rebuilding their homes and lives.
The disaster served as a catalyst for better planning and coordination among local, state and federal agencies not just for emergency response but for working on flood-control projects, officials said. And that must involve coordination within the broad watersheds that cover many cities and parishes.
“Water flows downhill and does not recognize political or arbitrary boundaries; thus, it must be managed, and associated risks mitigated, in a manner that takes this behavior into account,” a research paper prepared by the initiative says. “Decisions made and actions taken in one jurisdiction can have a downstream impact on the shape of other floodplains – expanding or contracting the risk of flooding in other areas. Such decisions or actions can impact the speed and volume of floodwater movement, which, in turn, exacerbates flood risks in existing floodplains.”
Put simply, the report says, Louisiana can no longer afford to rely on a “siloed” approach to managing projects, plans and policies separate and apart from each other.
The workshop in Gray will include a morning session from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. that includes an overview of data specific to the region. State officials encourage technical experts interested in taking part, such as local engineers, floodplain managers, GIS professionals and scientists, to register at watershed.la.gov. Click on the “get involved” link.
State agency officials will host planning and zoning, emergency management, permitting and other local or regional agency staff members from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. to gather input on flood-related issues.
Elected officials within each region are invited to meet with state agency officials from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. to learn more about the Louisiana Watershed Initiative, share questions and feedback and identify opportunities for local jurisdictions to participate.