(Editor’s Note: This story has been revised from an earlier version to include an updated figure on the expected size of the program management contract, as well as new information provided by OCD about which projects might be funded from the first batch of block grants.)
Watershed management. It’s a term you’ll hear a lot in 2019. With the parish conducting its own watershed management study and the state, more significantly, gearing up to receive a $1.2 billion federal windfall that will help plan for and fund a variety of flood-control related projects around the state, watershed management will be an oft-uttered buzzword.
What you won’t hear much about is the jockeying behind the scenes among various players hoping to get a piece of the action. Since the $1.2 billion in federal funds was first announced last April by Gov. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, consultants, engineering firms, and contractors have been strategizing about how to win their share of the contracts that will follow.
How can you blame them? Not only will the projects be lucrative and long-term; they’ll also be meaningful and impactful for those who live in Louisiana.
Already, the competition is on. In late December, the state Office of Community Development—which will administer the $1.2 billion in federal funds that will come down through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants program—issued a Request for Proposals for a program manager that will provide support services to the state.
The RFP doesn’t say how much the three-year gig will pay. But proposals are expected to come in in the $25 million range and will likely require a team approach, as the proposers are required to have experience in several areas, including: environmental science consulting, coastal restoration projects, managing large scale multi-jurisdictional projects and comprehensive community planning.
You’ll likely see firms like CSRS, AECOM, IEM and CB&I join forces with consultants like Emergent Method, Franklin Associates and SSA, and NGOs like The Water Institute of the Gulf and the Center for Planning Excellence to bid on the contract. (Ironic side note: both TWIG and CPEX are spawns of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.)
Proposals are due in mid-February and the contract will be awarded in mid-March, though the first batch of CDBG funds likely will not be available until mid-summer at the earliest.
In the meantime, the state is also preparing additional RFPs to do engineering work and modeling that will help determine which projects will get done first. OCD Executive Director Pat Forbes says decisions will be based on hard data, not politics, and that the criteria used will be that of “no regrets,” which is to say those projects that appear to be low-risk, high-reward and have already been in the planning stages for several years.
The Comite Diversion project would be a local example of one of those no-regrets projects, but it is already being funded from a separate pot of federal money, thanks, again, to efforts in Congress led by Graves.
Forbes cannot say which other local project may be among the first batch that get funded by the CDBG money, but he says each watershed in the state will receive some dollars this year.
Closer to home, East Baton Rouge Parish is doing its own storm water management plan that Mayor Sharon Weston Broome commissioned in the fall of 2017. Engineering firm HNTB is developing the plan, which will include a list of projects that are expected to help prevent day-to-day flash floods during heavy rainstorms, along with preventing floods during 50-year and 100-year flood events.
Though the plan was announced some 15 months ago, only enough local funding to do preliminary data collection and a sample watershed project was available, though the parish and HNTB have applied to FEMA to fund the full $10 million-$15 million plan with a Hazard Mitigation Grant, for which it is eligible.
Funding could come through as soon as February or March, then the real work will get underway, which is expected to take nearly two years. Once completed, the parish will have a comprehensive, 20-year capital improvement plan to reduce flood risk in the parish.
Forbes says the local effort is not duplicative of the state’s plan, but, rather will be useful to the state and help inform the decisions it makes relative to which projects to fund.
“The work they are doing is going to be very specific for East Baton Rouge Parish but it will feed into the overall work for the Amite River Basin,” Forbes says. “So that will be very helpful for us.”
What’s a watershed and why are we hearing the term now?
A watershed is the geographic area through which water flows across the land and drains into a common body of water, whether a stream, river, lake, or ocean. The watershed boundary more or less follows the highest ridgeline around the stream channels and meets at the bottom or lowest point of the land where water flows out of the watershed, the mouth of the waterway.
Neither the term nor the concept is new. Since the Louisiana floods of 2016, however, there’s been a greater focus at the state level on our regional watersheds, of which there are 57, and how we can better manage our flood risk by looking at natural, geographic boundaries rather than political and jurisdictional ones.