file flood

The scene in Denham Springs on Aug. 14, 2016.

It’s a good thing that the Great Flood of 2016 is still being discussed, still in the forefront of the fight.       
 
Really, it is.
 
Why? Take a mental rewind back to 1977. The Amite River hits a crest of 37.2 feet and causes roughly $14 million in damages. With low development and easier access to funds, the disaster remains on the minds of local citizens for about two years, maybe three, and then the majority of them simply move past it.
 
By 1980, finding a headlined piece or opinion mention of 1977’s flood is difficult. And yet, in 1983, it happened again – 41.5 feet this time, causing a total damage of $83.8 million.
 
Development had increased, but only slightly, in the six years but the extra four feet pushed the water into areas that it had not reached in the 1977 flood.
 
The response was similar to 1977 – for three years, things went rather rapidly. Recovery occurred, or at least began, while projects were discussed, and bodies created to navigate the confusing and technical world of drainage.
 
Former Publisher Jeff David was upset by the crest of the river in 1983, because just another foot or two – perhaps similar to 2016 – would have opened the door to a lot more funding and the green light on more projects.
 
However, many were glad the water didn’t reach such heights and moved on after just three years into the next decade. By 1986, flood recovery and prevention projects slowed to “contemplative” and “can’t afford to fund” and Baton Rouge area citizens moved on.
 
So, here we are Livingston Parish – three years since the event that rocked a huge portion of the parish, and it wasn’t just the Amite, causing billions of dollars in damages.
 
And yet, flood headlines still exist.
 
Some, of course, are due to the slow and inefficient manner of government.
 
The process is both maddening and frustrating, as many are still fighting with cut-rate insurance companies as well as waiting for the government’s grant funding to come through.
 
But it’s kept part of the conversation open, as well as state and local discussions on how can we handle all of this better – from prevention, to bureaucracy, to drainage in general.
 
So keep the conversation up, citizens of Livingston Parish – demand your politicians acknowledge it, focus on it, and address it because, as has been documented by the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of disaster prevention is nearly six times cheaper than the cost of disaster recovery.
 
Anything from stricter development rules to large-scale drainage projects such as the Comite River Diversion Canal and Darlington Reservoir are worth their weight in gold to regular citizens as well as giving a sense of ease to local residents who fear the black skies every time it rains.
 
And as much as we hope it doesn’t happen again, as much as local officials like to say, “We hope it doesn’t,” and, “That was a 1,000-year storm,” it can and it will – even with five more feet than 1983, part of the 2016 flood’s devastating power comes from the rampant development that occurred in Livingston Parish between 2005 and 2016, when the population nearly doubled thanks to Katrina and continually improving schools.
 
So no, hope is not a strategy and, no, what’s been done so far isn’t good enough – not yet.
 
We must continue to be vigilant and push for larger drainage goals so that the next time it rains heavily, instead of fearing the potential for devastation – maybe we’ll go play in it.
 
J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.

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