BREC wants its parks to be “sponges” for stormwater

Sunset at BREC's Milford Wampold Memorial Park and University Lake. (File photo)

BREC is working to ensure its facilities capture as much stormwater as possible, a parks system official says. 

The system’s work can help demonstrate how “green” infrastructure can work with “gray” infrastructure such as drainage pipes to reduce flood risk.

“The 2016 flood was a real wake-up call,” says Reed Richard, BREC’s assistant superintendent of system planning. 

A post-flood study found BREC’s parks held almost 10 billion gallons of water during that year’s flooding, enough to fill up Tiger Stadium 71 times, Richard says. A 2018 trip to the Netherlands that Richard says the Baton Rouge Area Foundation sponsored helped to underline the importance of using every opportunity to capture water. 

“We have this opportunity to increase the capacity we currently store with more intentional design,” he says. 

With help from a $4.7 million grant from the Louisiana Watershed Initiative, BREC plans to expand water bodies, adjust waterway slopes, add native plants and create permeable parking lots to increase stormwater capacity in Greenwood Community Park, to name one major example. Similar work is planned in Airline Highway and Howell parks, Richard says. 

The various green elements basically slow down the stormwater so it doesn’t have to be drained away all at once. BREC will continue to look for opportunities to mitigate flood risk in future projects and improvements to existing facilities, Richard says. 

He says approaching the work this way doesn’t significantly add to the cost. Less conventional subsurface drainage is needed, which helps offset the additional expenses. 

“Looking at everything as a sponge, all of these things will add up and provide benefits,” Richard says. “Combining this with the conventional gray infrastructure will provide a much more high-performing mitigation system for floodwater.”