Like so many others in and around Baton Rouge, my husband’s parents lost their home to the recent floods. Now 10 years into their retirement, my in-laws must struggle with decisions about rebuilding, even as they come to terms with the loss of their home of four decades. Like thousands of others, they must answer difficult questions: Do we rebuild the same way? Do we rebuild differently? Do we rebuild at all?
Devastating floods in both March and August of 2016 remind us of our state’s increasing vulnerability to severe weather. It is not just the rain that falls here in Louisiana that must worry us. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), since 1960 the southeastern U.S. has seen a 27 percent increase in very heavy precipitation. And the Midwest, which drains to Louisiana via the Mississippi River, has experienced a 37 percent rise. The data points to more frequent, heavy downpours in the future.
Louisiana therefore needs to be laser-focused on becoming more resilient to the inevitable weather-related threats that lie ahead. But how do we protect property and infrastructure against so many dire flood threats from so many different directions — from coastal storm surges, from upstream river floods rolling down on us, and from regional storm events that dump 15 or 20 or 30 inches of rain on us? To be sure, levees, diversions, and other "structural" solutions provide key elements of protection. But trying to control the water is not a long-term solution. Real resilience against these varied threats requires additional "lines of defense": elevating homes, businesses, and infrastructure; flood-proofing homes and other structures; coordinating local and regional floodplain management; and enhancing stormwater-management infrastructure. In the absence of such solutions, Louisiana’s communities will no longer be insurable, financeable, or viable.
Now — right now — we have the opportunity to provide an example to the country by building and rebuilding resiliently. Our elected officials must make bold, fact-based policy decisions that support the long-term viability of living and working in a flood-prone region. If we fail, Louisiana will become an example of what not to do.
With far-sighted leadership from elected officials, relying on no-nonsense expertise, Louisiana can build back safer. Our people are resilient, but they have endured a great deal. As we plan for long-term recovery, it is both a moral and economic imperative that we work together to ensure our homes, buildings, infrastructure, and policy are as resilient as our people.
senior vice president, Center for Planning Excellence
Trey Poirrier and Jerry Gravois stood in waist-deep floodwater near the St. Amant Fire Depar…