It will take efforts large and small to begin flood-proofing the Baton Rouge area, an architect recently told a group of environmentalists.
The local chapter of the Sierra Club has held a series of lectures reflecting on the August flood. During the final session Thursday, an LSU professor and a leader at the non-profit Center for Planning Excellence looked ahead in a program titled "Rebuilding with Resilience."
CPEX is working on a set of recommendations for the area, but it won't be published for a few more months, said Haley Blakeman, the agency's director of implementation. However, she discuss ways individuals, neighborhoods and entire cities can encourage more robust construction and infrastructure.
For example, a city or parish could offer "storm water credit" — agreeing to lower water bills for property owners who take steps to allow rain water to drain locally instead of pushing it onto neighbors. That could include a business with a shell or gravel parking lot, a home elevated off the ground level or a subdivision with permeable roads made of brick, stone or porous asphalt.
Blakeman also passed around a report CPEX wrote for the town of Jean Lafitte in Jefferson Parish. The document includes proposed ordinances that go beyond those currently on the books in places like East Baton Rouge.
Under current ordinances, buildings must be built at the level of the so-called 100-year floodplain or one foot above, depending on jurisdiction.
New construction should be built two feet above the 100-year floodplain, and "critical facilities" — generally medical sites, power plants and other sensitive structures — should be built a foot above the 500-year floodplain, CPEX wrote.
The proposal also calls for protection of trees such as live oaks, southern magnolias and bald cypresses, as they prevent soil erosion. Blakeman encouraged members of the Sierra Club to plant local species, and a list of Louisiana grasses, flowers, bushes and trees is available in the Jean Lafitte report at cpex.org/resources.
In addition to elevating and planting local species, property owners with space may consider digging ditches, ponds and other structures to mitigate flooding.
However, Blakeman said, it is also important to think of city- and parish-wide opportunities to retain water and allow its slow release during and immediately after a flood event, rather than dumping it all on the next person downstream.
She suggested Baton Rouge leaders look to Hoboken, New Jersey, which received enough federal assistance following Hurricane Sandy to build a flood wall around the whole city. Instead, leaders chose to build some walls and invest in open spaces where water can be stored and slowly released, Blakeman said. Those sites can function as parks and other resources during the rest of the year when there isn't a disaster.
It's important to move quickly while people are still thinking about the August flood and the government may be receptive to changes, she said.
"We have a chance to reboot ... In six months, no one will care again," Blakeman warned.
She described the term "thousand-year event," which is often used to describe the flood, as a public relations nightmare. Meteorologists and civil engineers say it is inaccurate to describe August's flood in that manner.
A few weeks after the August flood, a Federal Emergency Management Agency engineer appeared …
Baton Rouge's precipitation record before August's flood wasn't set decades ago, Blakeman noted. It came in October 2015.
"It's not like this is a crazy thing that's happening," the architect remarked.