DENHAM SPRINGS — Drainage officials in this area have a master plan on how to improve water flow and, hopefully, decrease flooding for many of their residents. But what they'll agree to invest remains to be seen.
Engineers for the drainage district presented plans earlier this week derived from a 2015 study of the Grays Creek watershed, and the board signed off on fixing three problem culverts that are "choke points" for draining water. But they said they needed more time before approving the multi-thousand dollar projects projected to have the biggest impacts.
"I just don’t know enough," said Livingston Parish Gravity Drainage District No. 1 Board Member Carl Juneau after raising a number of questions about the proposals.
The proposals derived from a $300,000 study commissioned by the drainage district in 2015 to analyze and chart the characteristics of the watershed and identify the trouble areas that cause flooding.
The Grays Creek watershed extends from Denham Springs south to Port Vincent. About 25 percent of Livingston Parish residents live in the region, according to the study, and the area flooded severely in August 2016.
The plan made $169 million worth of recommendations that varied from smaller fixes, such as replacing culverts, to widening Grays Creek, building retention ponds and even constructing levees and pumps.
On Tuesday night, the engineers from Quality Engineering and Surveying, of Port Vincent, laid out a multi-year plan to replace some 14 culverts and bridges, as well as widen Grays Creek.
"These are the start of the capital improvements of the Grays Creek study,” said Deric Murphy, a QES engineer.
The study and its recommendations appeared to come as news to the four board members present, who were all appointed since the study was commissioned, and they decided to take their time to decide how to begin.
"I almost feel like this is a discussion we need to have at least one more time to get more comfortable with the proposal and all the ins and outs of this," said Board Member Buford Elliott.
Prior to 2016, the district was looking at a $20 million bond to implement the drainage study, but the parish councilmen elected that year to hold off on the plan because it lacked specifics, said Denham Springs-area Councilman Maurice "Scooter" Keen.
Then the 2016 flood hit, and the capital improvement project has been on hold while the district has waited on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assess the effect on their waterways, according to Board Chairman David Provost.
Provost, who was not at the meeting Tuesday, said the district will move forward on the plan with its own capital for now.
The district collects about $2.3 million annually and has saved $1.5 million to invest in remedying drainage problems in the watershed, said Randy Smith, the district's accountant.
The board approved the three top priority projects associated with the study on Tuesday night. The drainage district will replace one culvert and remove another along Millers Canal and replace a culvert along Delatte Canal. The work will be done by the drainage district's staff, and the engineering fees will total about $47,000.
"This gets your water moving in the short term a lot faster," said Jamie Seal, a floodplain manager with QES.
Another 11 culverts and bridges were also suggested for replacement or removal, and the board said they would consider them once the first projects are underway.
The board decided to schedule a special meeting to review the study and discuss some of the more expensive items that would lead into widening Grays Creek, a move Seal said would have a "major effect" on reducing flooding.
The major issue right now on that front is commissioning a $26,000 wetlands study along 10 miles of Grays Creek that is a necessary step if the agency wants to widen the waterway.
"Without this, nothing else can happen. This identifies the areas that are hot spots, no nos, don’t touch," Seal said.
The engineers prescribed installing stream gauges along Grays Creek. The gauges, which would cost at least $86,000, could track the height of the water and its flow. Seal said that would alert drainage workers of blockages and allow for better modeling of the watershed, which could ultimately instruct FEMA's determinations of the flood zones.