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Aerial of severe flooding of the Comite River near Zachary in East Baton Rouge Parish on Sunday August 14, 2016.

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG

The government must invest in science to better understand local flooding, an engineer told the Amite River Basin Commission Tuesday evening.

The Basin Commission is a regional political body that seeks to mitigate flooding around the Amite and its tributaries. Its major project is the unfinished Comite River Diversion canal, thrust into the spotlight following the recent flood, which would have been less destructive had the channel been completed.

The Commission has clamored for federal money to finish the project, and the sentiment was again expressed during Tuesday's meeting. But the board's contracted hydrologist, Bob Jacobsen, said there are more fundamental problems that also need to be addressed.

In short, nobody really knows for sure how flooding in the basin works. Federal flood maps can be non-specific, out of date, subject to change and based on conjecture, he said in an interview.

After Hurricane Katrina, the federal government invested millions of dollars to study coastal flooding.

"Why don't we have that available for basin flooding?" Jacobsen asked.

"We have that capability now."

He would like the government to run sophisticated computer models to form a more complete understanding of flood risks along the Amite, Comite and other local waterways.

Researchers could run hundreds of tests, tweaked to account for different wind patterns, lake heights and soil saturation levels. Those results would let residents, developers and local governments know the true flood risk throughout the region.

The Basin Commission has called for a workshop in conjunction with LSU on Oct. 5. They plan to bring together the Army Corps of Engineers, the state climatologist, parish governments and other agencies to talk about ways to improve flood forecasting and hazard analysis in the basin.

As Jacobsen remarked, it's time to get nerdy.

The Basin Commission is trying to help model future events by collecting hundreds of high water marks to determine the extent of the recent flood. The $127,000 endeavor will be added to data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey to help gain a better understanding of the August storm.

They repeated their plea for federal funding to complete the diversion canal. While locals in East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston parishes have been paying taxes for the project for more than a decade, the canal will ultimately require federal money.

"The taxpayers are very disgusted," Commissioner Don Thompson said after the meeting. "They don't realize that we're at the mercy of the Corps of Engineers."

The local congressional delegation has been agitating for canal funding to be included in the regional flood disaster relief package, executive director Dietmar Rietschier said.

He is optimistic the project will move forward. "If anything is going to happen, this is the time," he said.

The commission has been buying land for the project, and the state Department of Transportation and Development is standing ready to relocate utility lines when construction starts, he continued.

"The trigger is federal funds," he said.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.