Planning and mitigation crucial for managing future natural disasters, experts say

    Even though resiliency and recovery have dominated discussions in the aftermath of the unprecedented flood in August, experts at the Center for Planning Excellence’s 2016 Louisiana Smart Growth Summit today proposed mitigating and planning for future natural disasters that are expected to become more common.

    “We know what the coastal crisis is here in Louisiana pretty well,” said Jeannette Dubinin, a CPEX project manager. “But our flood problem is not going away.”

    Dubinin was one of three experts featured at a flood risk reduction workshop that took place earlier today at the summit.

    She and other experts spoke about some of the vexing challenges posed by a changing environment and the long-running development nuances that are putting more and more homeowners and businesses at risk for flooding.

    With the August floods in Baton Rouge and surrounding areas fresh in their minds, the speakers suggested elevating homes, building diversion canals and changing zoning and construction laws as ways to mitigate the impact of floods.

    Impervious surfaces, such as concrete, that have dominated the landscape in many Louisiana communities through years of development can increase the risks of flooding, Dubinin said. That, plus diverting waterways over the years, has created an unsustainable environment for managing storms.

    John Lopez, sustainability program director for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, said one solution is the Comite River Diversion Canal, a long-stalled project that would carry high water from the Comite River to the Mississippi River.

    That project, located between Baker and Zachary, was first approved in 1992 but was never funded. Some of the experts said the August flood could have been mitigated in the area if the project had been completed.

    Lopez said officials in charge of mitigating flood risks should focus on watersheds and managing land use. Water can be managed upriver through things like dams, river outlets and retention ponds, he added.

    But as Louisiana plans for future disasters, the data used to project where and when extreme rain events and hurricanes will hit are becoming outdated, said Oxfam Gulf Coast Policy Officer Rosa Herrin.

    Not only do meteorologists have a hard time determining just how much rain will fall during major storms, Herrin said, but changing populations and climate change are making previous data unreliable indicators of future events.

    —Sam Karlin

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