McHugh David: Will drainage finally become top priority in the wake of severe rainfall?
There’s something in the air in the Gulf of Mexico.
For three years now, residents of the Gulf Coast have watched as storms have become more intense.
Not in the way storms used to be feared - mainly wind damage from cyclone-force storms. Andrew, Katrina, Ivan, Rita - all of those storms brought 100-mph-plus winds, with about a foot of rainfall.
Now, Hurricane Harvey has brought nearly five feet of rain - over a several hundred square mile area - and has broken the previous record for tropical storm rainfall set by Amelia in 1978 at 48 inches.
Yes, the Redneck Riviera has seen its fair share of wet tropical storms in the past. As recently as 2001, Allison brought 40 inches to Houston that saw similar results.
Allison also came pre-Katrina, and really pre-boom in Houston - which now boasts a population of nearly 15 million people.
But, Harvey isn’t done yet - the storm returned to the Gulf Monday afternoon, lathering on some moisture before preparing to return to southern Louisiana.
On Monday afternoon, the outer bands began to trickle through the Baton Rouge area... and it started to rain.
Sound familiar? Residents of Livingston Parish, East Baton Rouge, and Ascension can’t help but sit and wonder - “In the wake of the Great Flood of 2016, what has been done to stop a catastrophe from happening again?”
At a local level, a few things have been accomplished to help prevent flash-flooding. Drains have been cleared, ditches cleaned - granted, after an inch or two of water got into Denham Springs High School, but better late than never.
As bad as it may seem, its difficult to fault local officials. As stated by parish Homeland Security Director Mark Harrell, Parish President Layton Ricks, and Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry, they’re doing what they can feasibly do with the little money they have left.
Yet, as parish residents stare down the barrel at Hurricane Harvey - with hopes that the brunt of the storm does not strike in the Baton Rouge area - those hopes are not based around your typical “please, no hurricane” wishes, with attempts to avoid downed electric poles and some inconvenience.
No, people fear the rain. Citizens do not want to flood again. But, it goes further than that now - we’ve learned, truly, how a flood can affect a region. Businesses, schools, infrastructure, growth is all damaged. You can bounce back once, sure, but if it happens again due to inaction? Forget about it.
Look at Houston - the economy has boomed since the aforementioned Hurricane Allison, and now the damages may eclipse the trillion dollar mark. Of the 15 million residents, how many will be displaced? Where will they go? While these questions will take years to answer, now the fight is for survival.
Right down the street, New Orleans is trying its very best to scare people away. A city which relies on canals, levees, and pumps to stay dry has almost no functioning pumps - and Harvey may make a visit.
Strangely enough, the New Orleans pumps failing, the Great Flood of 2016, water getting into Denham Springs High School, and the flooding the past two springs have not been caused by any kind of named storms.
No, it just started to rain.
The State of Louisiana, which contains the drain of vast majority of the country in the Mississippi River, has reached a tipping point. Unchecked growth has led to drainage problems, combined with what appears to be unlimited moisture coming in from the Gulf creates a scenario where a decision has to be made.
The Comite River Diversion Canal is a dead horse, but it needs to be beaten one more time.
Why? The $300 million price tag - which finds more money ever year - is but a start, as studies and technology show that drainage is, and will remain, a regional issue.
All well and good, but it has to start somewhere. The diversion canal is but a piece, a starting point, for a regional solution to large-scale drainage issues in the area - and its time that process started.
Too much time, money, and public trust has been wasted on studies, plans, and statements that read - “It’s just not worth it at this time.”
Well, then, what is?
The situation has become all too apparent, as storms continue to drop feet of rain on our area; it’s time for action, not deliberation.
August 2016 could happen again, and with some of the showers we’ve seen since the event, plus Harvey, it appears that could happen at anytime.
Combined with residential developments, which shift the flood plains due to raised houses, it’s time to make the responsible decision and focus on making sure these floodplains can drain.
Rep. Garret Graves said if we (citizens and politicians alike) don’t pay for preventitive measures, studies show we’ll pay over double on the back end. If the Great Flood of 2016’s price tag is any indication, complete inaction could be expensive in the long run.
It’s time to take action, time to address the problems with Baton Rouge’s regional drainage. If that doesn’t happen, will the pride that kept most in Livingston Parish after the Great Flood still hold?
Or will it be more like Houston post-Harvey, or more hard numbers from Katrina? How many will leave?