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The Magnolia Bridge takes on water in the Central area looking toward Watson, right, during severe flooding in East Baton Rouge Parish on Sunday August 14, 2016.

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG

East Baton Rouge began the complex process Friday of distributing its share of more than a quarter-billion dollars the state of Louisiana stands to receive to improve infrastructure following the August flood, with the city-parish government launching a study of the region's drainage. 

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's office formally asked engineering firms to submit their qualifications for the study and recommend which projects would best reduce future flooding after heavy rains.

Since the flood, there has been no shortage of ideas. Politicians, planners and engineers have all demanded the issue be addressed. However, leaders in different areas have pushed for different solutions. 

There's feverish support for the Comite River Diversion Canal in Central, though it would do less for residents in south Livingston, where repairing the Amite River weir is a priority. Depending on who you ask, experts or politicians advocate for dredging Jones Creek in the southeastern part of East Baton Rouge Parish, or Bayou Manchac in Prairieville, or the Baker Canal in Baker, or the University Lakes near LSU. The proposed Darlington Reservoir could protect homes in Watson, but would accomplish less to help St. James, which is trying to complete the Westshore Levee Project. State and federal sources have also wondered if some money could be spent to reduce rain-induced flash-flooding or install a new river gauge to keep tabs on the Amite River.

"We're not dead set on any (project.) ... I want to see what the science tells us is the best approach," said Rowdy Gaudet, East Baton Rouge assistant chief administrative officer.

Louisiana will soon qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars to improve its floodwater management. After a disaster, states can access funds relative to the amount spent on recovery. Currently, Louisiana is slated to receive $257 million, though the number could vary until the first anniversary of the flood, said Mike Steele, spokesman for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Engineering firms may submit their qualifications to East Baton Rouge officials through Aug. 4, and the top three applicants will present their plans Aug. 30. Firms must demonstrate how they would design a stormwater management plan that considers both East Baton Rouge and the region at large, including Ascension, Iberville, Livingston and St. James parishes, according to a news release.

"There's a lot of new data out there. ... We need to know what our streams are capable of handling, and at this point we don't know that," said Fred Raiford, the East Baton Rouge transportation and drainage director. "I like to have basic data ... to show 'this will improve the upstream without causing downstream problems.'"

Raiford ticked off major waterways within East Baton Rouge that could be looked at, including Bayou Fountain, Wards Creek and Beaver Creek. While engineers will have to consider regional solutions, they'll also have to think about the local waterways, he said. In recent months, some have called for parish canals to be expanded or at least stripped of concrete liners that keep flood water from seeping into the ground.

Livingston Emergency Management Chief Mark Harrell is optimistic given that the parishes in the region have banded together to approach drainage. He's already proposed a cost-sharing agreement with Ascension and Livingston to dredge the lower Amite River and repair the weir — a worn dam-like structure located near the diversion canal between St. Amant and French Settlement.

"There's tons of projects that could possibly be done ... that would benefit both parishes," he said.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.