Keeping water under control in EBR proves daunting task

More development in East Baton Rouge Parish means more water flowing into area waterways faster than it used to, which causes more flooding.

It’s a problem local officials will be studying at a daylong workshop Monday about the parish’s watersheds and ways to improve how water is handled.

“With all the development we’ve had, the city is starting to see more flood events within the city,” said Jeff Kuehny, director and professor of horticulture with the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens.

Kuehny serves as the chairman of a planning commission committee looking at ways to address environmental issues outlined in the FutureBR plan, including the containment and control of water.

As part of that mission, the Water Quality Enhancement Committee will conduct a daylong workshop Monday where they hope to attract planners, engineers, developers, contractors, landscape architects and residents to learn more about the parish’s watersheds. The day will also feature several speakers from Houston who will talk about ways that city has learned to live better with water.

The extensive development in Baton Rouge over the years means not only that there are less surfaces to absorb water when it rains, Kuehny said, but that there has been more erosion. This leads to waterways filling up that previously were able to handle a larger percentage of the water volume, he said.

Water quality is also an issue, Kuehny said. The state Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aren’t able to monitor quality everywhere in the state, he said.

“There’s not been a lot of monitoring in cities,” he said.

There’s not a lot known about what waterways in the city-parish are impaired, or for what reason — whether it be low dissolved oxygen or too much sediment.

The committee has submitted a proposal to the EPA, which, if approved, would allow some water monitoring within the Baton Rouge watersheds.

Another issue of concern is regular, everyday trash that collects in waterways and low areas.

“EPA has never labeled physical trash as an impairment to watersheds or water quality,” Kuehny said.

However, as the speed of the water increases, so does the amount of trash collecting in the waterways, which can cause drainage back-ups and lead to more problems.

Kuehny said the Water Quality Enhancement Committee is hoping to attract contractors, planners and engineers to Monday’s meeting and form subgroups to create ideas to help improve the situation. In the long-term, he said, the goal is to change the culture of development and water management to help meet the goals set out in FutureBR.

“It’s to create a culture of concern,” he said. “To begin to think about this as new development occurs.”

Houston officials have been using methods to allow water to percolate into the ground instead of rushing in to drainage ditches, Kuehny said, and have found ways to enhance public space and recreation at the same time they manage water.

“In Houston, not only does it enhance water quality, but it enhances the community (they) live in,” he said.

The workshop will be from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. May 12. The cost is $25 and includes lunch and transportation to a few sites in Baton Rouge. More information and registration link is available at www.buildinggreencities.org.

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