Residents of East Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes should note that the article on the 1983 flood of the Amite/Comite river basins (published in The Advocate on April 8) answers the question “Could it happen again?” with a “Yes.” Unfortunately, the full answer is that it not only can but will happen again.
As the article states, a tremendous amount of development has occurred in these basins and their connected watersheds since that flood. In 1983, areas such as the O’Neal Lane interchange were largely rural, with mostly isolated homes amidst fields and forests. Now, development covers most of the area, with numerous subdivisions reaching into the floodplain. Impervious concrete and asphalt have replaced much of the natural drainage and flood control systems of pervious soil and wetlands that kept the 1983 flood from being worse than it was. The effects are entirely predictable.
Have any lessons been learned since 1983? The answer to that question can be seen along Burbank Drive, where lowlands in the Bayou Fountain drainage along the Highland Road Ridge are being developed, along with the stand of old-growth bottomland forest between Burbank and Nicholson (an area marked for conservation in the FUTUREBR Plan).
All of these areas held water during the heavy rain event we experienced in January — as they’re supposed to. That rain system, of course, didn’t approach the event of 1983. But the flooding that did occur illustrates that development policy in the parish has not significantly changed. The areas already cleared for development along Burbank held a significant amount of standing water, as did the remaining forests and wetlands.
Those areas of cleared ground will soon have homes, offices, parking lots and driveways on them. Will the large culverts being laid along Burbank fully accommodate the natural drainage capacity being lost to overdevelopment? I suspect no one really knows — but the taxpayers are paying for them, as they’ll pay for the damage done by entirely predictable flooding that will be worsened by poor planning decisions.
The FUTUREBR Plan was supposed to change all this, as the Horizon Plan was before it. But what happens on the ground is still determined largely by political factors rather than prudent planning.