The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued a Federal Register Notice for the $1.2 billion mitigation allocation made to Louisiana as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The guidance provides guidelines on eligible activities and investments that the state hopes to advance Louisiana’s pioneering long-term flood risk reduction and resilience initiative.
While the federal guidelines require the state to submit an action plan by Feb. 3, 2020, the state is working to submit its response as quickly as possible to begin the federal review and approval process.
“This news gets us one step closer to making the Louisiana Watershed Initiative’s mission a reality,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “It creates an opportunity to address the root causes of flooding in our state, beginning with those areas devasted by the 2016 floods. As flooding becomes a more frequent concern for so many of our communities, it is imperative that we leverage opportunities like this to develop a mutual understanding of risk, increased accountability for decision-making and a stronger sense of long-term responsibility for Louisiana’s future.”
Approved by Congress, the $1.2 billion allocation will fund construction of flood-protection projects, along with collecting qualitative data and developing computer modeling to assess, predict and prepare for water movement throughout the state. The data and modeling tools will help local governments select and prioritize long-term projects, as well as support regional planning efforts according to watersheds – areas connected by the natural flow of water as it travels to reach the lowest point in a landscape.
“This funding is critical to continuing flood mitigation work that began not long after the 2016 floods,” Pat Forbes, executive director of the Office of Community Development, said. “We are refining our action plan, which we began to draft months ago in anticipation of receiving this notice, to meet these parameters while continuing to gather information from stakeholders around the state on how these funds can best be used to reduce flood risk.”
Per the federal guidelines, the state is required to spend at least 50 percent of the funds to benefit the 10 parishes designated as most impacted and distressed by the 2016 floods: Acadia, Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Livingston, Ouachita, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Vermilion and Washington.
In 2018, Gov. Edwards formed the Council on Watershed Management to guide the state toward a statewide resilience strategy. The Louisiana Watershed Initiative serves as the Council’s programmatic arm, educating local governments about the new approach and establishing ways to coordinate their efforts within watershed regions. Through this program, the state is focused on flood mitigation well beyond the life of the $1.2 billion congressional allocation with plans to leverage the resulting tools, resources and activities in support of statewide resilience.
“We’ve made significant progress over the past two years in how state agencies collaborate on flood risk,” Bren Haase, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and Council on Watershed Management member, said. “The framework in place through the Louisiana Watershed Initiative helps ensure these funds are used as effectively as possible, providing maximum value and long-term impact to Louisiana communities and residents.”
Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director James Waskom said the watershed strategy represents a shift in focus to a proactive, long-term effort to reduce the risks posed by future flooding.
“The watershed approach comes out of our experiences during the 2016 floods,” Waskom said. “It offers a way for leaders at every level to make policy and planning decisions based on science and engineering, in a coordinated manner that supports the natural functions of rivers and floodplains.”