When you stop to think about water, it’s a bit overwhelming.
The force of nature, as anyone learned from his or her very first world science class, always wins. The sheer force, tenacity, patience, and power will carve out whatever path it chooses through whatever landscape.
Livingston Parish has more than 500 miles of navigable waterways, which includes major arteries such as the Amite River in the west (and partially the east), as well as the Tickfaw, Blood, and Natalbany rivers in the east.
Those 500 miles do not include the small creeks, canals, and bayous which make up much of the parish’s drainage infrastructure.
In order to dredge and remove snags (small foliage growths) for both large-river systems, the parish had to wait for a windfall of federal money – which includes disaster relief and mitigation funds. Those types of funding only come after a catastrophic event, which means a community had to endure a hardship.
In the case of Livingston Parish, the hardship was completely unnecessary.
The cost of disaster recovery has risen to nearly six times that of disaster preparedness and prevention. Current cleaning of waterways and changes to drainage methods count as recovery, because they’re coming after the disaster using relief funds.
But what of future disasters? That’s just as overwhelming as the water itself.
To clean just the large waterways has cost more than $100 million – for work that should be done once a decade. The last time the Amite was properly cleaned was in the 1960s, and the ’77 flood came not long after.
So that $100 million isn’t enough – it helps, but a repeat of the Great Flood can happen tomorrow. Look at what happened last Thursday, as nearly 8 inches of rain came down and flooded streets, backed up canals, and kept the Colyell Creek full for nearly a week.
The Colyell has problems because of unfunded drainage south of Walker. Starting with the drain under Interstate 12, which was cleaned in the early 2010’s then made nearly full again after the Great Flood, lack of real drainage funding causes huge problems upstream – and unfortunately the Walker area has felt it.
All drainage is interconnected, and unfortunately there’s no singular solution for Livingston Parish’s problems. It takes a village – keeping ditches clean, keeping trash out of drain pipes, regulating development, funding drainage projects, finding ways to keep large waterways clean regularly, all of these add up to a real drainage solution.
And a real disaster prevention method in the future.
Two articles were released recently, one of which lists Louisiana at 50th in just about every major economic indication category – education, infrastructure, tax structure, and workforce development. A secondary article, from the Wall Street Journal, discussed the Southern economy falling behind. The article said that Southern states are, typically, wary of investment in those categories because they are usually government run or managed.
Corruption in Louisiana at almost all levels of government has caused a mindset of disdain and lack of trust. Ideas such as LouisianaCheckBook.com were supposed to offer a level of financial responsibility not yet seen in the Bayou State but have yet to materialize fully as a usable platform for monetary monitoring.
Some might bring up, say, the Amite River Basin Commission. Citing that group is a good point, until you look at its bottom lines - $340,000 per year in revenue. With salaries and overhead, that leaves about $100,000 a year for basin-related expenses. That’s 0.2 percent of the $50 million needed to clean the Amite just once.
It doesn’t help that the commission had a slew of mismanagement and problems with blame games for several years.
Infrastructure investment has always spurred economies in times of need, and there’s no better candidate than roads and drainage. But can Louisiana find politicians at state and local levels that can be trusted to do the job?
Time will tell, but even so - $50 million, for just one river, is also a quarter of the School Board’s whole budget, and over half of the sheriff’s, and half of the parish’s. The calls for focus on drainage can be heard, and it’s great that the parish has jumped that hurdle, but now if real work is to be done – residents are going to have to pay.
And it will be unpopular until its implemented, correctly. And yes, the politicians are going to have to put in their fair share of work to convince the rest of us they can do it appropriately.
J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.