LIVINGSTON — Concerned that new development is causing flooding around existing homes in Livingston Parish, council members are looking to step up their drainage requirements.
The enhanced standards would put the parish more in line with Ascension and East Baton Rouge by requiring developers to build with heavier storms storms in mind.
"You're hearing from your constituents that new development is a big part of this problem. So, let's get up to the standards of our neighbors that we have around us," said Watson-area Councilman Garry "Frog" Talbert, who is leading the effort to change the rules.
The development code changes were unanimously approved by the parish's ordinance four-member committee on Jan. 17. They will be the subject of a public hearing and vote Thursday.
Two years after a flood ravaged the capital region, construction of new homes proceeds in much the same way.
The changes are the most significant the parish has attempted since thousands of residents flooded here in August 2016.
They come as residents have recently taken their concerns to Facebook, posting photos of flooding on their streets and yards during the heavy rainstorms over the holidays.
About a hundred residents also recently came to a parish council meeting to complain about a new apartment complex they fear will worsen flooding in their homes south of Walker.
Under the new rules, the parish would require developers of all new subdivisions and commercial enterprises to draft drainage impact studies that look at the upstream and downstream effects of the project during 24-hour storms that have a chance of happening every 10, 25 and 100 years.
In accordance with those studies, developers would be required to dig ponds that retain rainfall from a 25-year storm and release it slowly, so that the runoff rate does not exceed pre-development levels.
The ponds are the major front-line method through which parishes try to mitigate the effect of more roads, roofs and concrete from home and business construction.
Currently, the parish only requires ponds that retain a 10-year, 24-hour storm.
Ascension Parish adopted a similar standard earlier this month, although parish officials said they were already applying it administratively for the past few years.
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Under Livingston's new rules, the upstream and downstream impacts of the 100-year storm would also be considered, and developers could be required to build deeper ponds or fix existing drainage problems if the impact will be severe, Talbert said.
A number of exemptions that allow the parish engineers to waive drainage impact studies for small projects are also canceled under the new ordinances.
"We're trying to eliminate the impact of development on our storm water system by making everything get studied," Talbert said. "Obviously, the ten-year study is not sufficient. And obviously, we need to eliminate as many exemptions as possible."
The meeting Thursday night was attended by several engineers and a member of the parish's planning committee, but no developers or residents.
Toby Fruge, the engineer for Watson-area Gravity Drainage District No. 2, said the new regulations would help Livingston "catch up to the times."
He said developers are going by the 10-year standard now. The new rules would require ponds that take up a larger portion of the property.
"Good for protecting residents, but not good for developers," Fruge said.
Under the new rules, people would also be prohibited from closing in existing open ditches, such as by adding a culvert and driveway, because doing so leads to clogs and reduced flow.
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That regulation drew some concern from Albany-area Councilman Shane Mack, who lamented that it limits what people do with the right-of-way outside their homes.
"I'm thinking about the poor people that have already been there 25 years, and they want to close their ditch in," he said.
But Talbert said it was time to stop allowing things like that.
"If we're going to get serious about making this thing work and our drainage situation, let's not design it one way and alter it to where it restricts the flow and creates a problem," he said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the status and hearing date of the ordinance before the parish council.