WALKER – Drainage is not just a ditch in front of someone’s home, but a complicated system of creeks, bayous, canals, watersheds that ignore government boundaries, a group of officials told a Walker audience on Monday.
What happens north of Walker in terms of drainage affects the city, just as what Walker does will affect those south of the city, one municipal official said.
The City Council meeting was moved from City Hall to Walker Freshman High School, and the auditorium was almost full before the meeting began.
“I assume that is why some of y’all are here tonight,” Mayor Jimmy Watson said after the City Council went through the majority of its agenda.
“I think we all share the same concern. It’s an emotional issue, if you flooded, almost flooded or had neighbors flood. We understand that.”
“Flooding has no political boundaries,” Watson said. “It doesn’t just shut off at the city or parish boundaries or the state.
“We have a great relationship with Livingston Parish (government) and OEP and Congressman Garret Graves and the School Board” to deal with drainage issues.
The city also works with Gravity Drainage District 5, Watson said.
“Our common goals are to get water out of Walker,” he said.
After a presentation that included a parish official, engineer, TV weatherman and congressman, the mayor invited city residents to speak.
All of those who spoke talked of drainage problems where they live, asking what is being done.
Watson offered to meet at City Hall or at a person’s home to go over the details of their issue.
The largest part of the presentation fell to Walker Chief of Operations Jamie Etheridge, who outlined what the city is doing about drainage and what affects it.
“Our watersheds affect what is going on here,” Etheridge said.
The six watersheds that come into Walker are the Colyell, West Colyell, Middle Colyell, Dumpling Creek, Hornsby Creek and Taylor Bayou, he said.
“The Taylor Bayou watershed, most of y’all are affected by it. It has the most land mass in city,” 5.1 square miles, Etheridge said.
Meanwhile, the West Colyell Watershed, with only 1 square mile in the city, due to its location, has caused the most repetitive loss of homes than the rest of the city, he said.
Eighty percent of Walker is in one of two flood zones, according to Kresten Brown, engineer with Forte & Tablada, who works with the city.
Brown said the term “100-year storm” means there is a 1 percent chance a storm that severe will happen. A 10-year storm means there is a 1 in 10 chance such a storm will hit.
Looking at his charts, Brown said 6 inches of rain in 24 hours would be “between a 2- and 5-year storm.’
But 6 inches of rain in 2 hours would be a 200-year storm.
Most roads and infrastructure is built for a 50-year storm, Brown said.
“The city is not designed for a 200-year storm. You shouldn’t be surprised seeing things not operating,” he said.
Etheridge mentioned several times the city has to consider the effect of any drainage project on the surrounding area.
“If we make improvements to one creek, it will affect another creek,” he said.
The majority of the parish falls under nonfunded gravity drainage districts, Etheridge said, so drainage work is limited if at all.
The issue of funding was covered by another speaker.
“We have zero dollars for waterways,” said Mark Harrell, director of the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness.
“Everything we do with federal funding has regulations. We go through every step or lose the funding,” he said.
“The only chance we have is when Congressman (Garret) Graves gets us funding. But it’s a one-time deal,” not recurring funds, he said.
Congressman Garret Graves listed several multimillion-dollar funding effort approved to help Livingston Parish.
“We have also secured $1.2 billion for new flood protection projects,” Graves said.
The funds have not been designated yet for projects, since the federal regulations are only being published this week, he said.
“Livingston Parish is one of the fastest growing parishes in the state,” Graves said. “We have an incredible amount of water to manage.”
Adding to the drainage challenge is a change in the weather.
“We are the wettest state in the lower 49 and we live in the wettest part of that state,” said Jay Grymes, chief meteorologist with television station WAFB.
“Yes, we are seeing more frequent, heavy storms, short duration storms. We’re seeing larger, wetter storms."
“We’re not as convinced or capable of telling you they are getting larger but they appear to be wetter,” Grymes said.
“I remind you, progress and success come with a price. The more you grow, the less you have for water.”
Growth can mean what was once forests becomes pastures, then the pastures become developments for homes.
But rain and storms still come even if there is less open land to absorb it, he added.