Louisiana’s geographic position makes it home to one of the most dynamic coastal and riverine systems in the United States. It is where the combination of tributaries that comprise the Mississippi, Red, Sabine, Ouachita and other smaller rivers meet and eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico. These natural systems have offered Louisianans — and the rest of the world — access to fresh seafood, navigable waterways, and the foundation for a vibrant culture built on people’s relationship with those waters and all of the benefits they bring.
That same location has made Louisiana particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events. Current land-use and development patterns have led to the construction of residential and commercial buildings in areas prone to flooding, leading to the highest concentrations of repeated-loss properties in the nation. Rising seas, coastal subsidence, increasingly intense and frequent rainfall events, and more intense hurricane seasons exacerbated by climate change mean Louisiana communities will be even more vulnerable in the future.
During 2016 alone, 56 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes had major disaster declarations as a result of two heavy rainfall events.See footnote 1 In March, Louisiana experienced significant flood impacts as torrential downpours led to several record crests on rivers across the state.See footnote 2 In August of that same year, another heavy rainfall event dropped 20 to 30 inches of rain the south central to southeastern part of the state over three days, leading to significant riverine flooding.See footnote 3 Some homes that flooded in March flooded again in August.
Those events — also referred to as the “Great Floods of 2016” — presented what the future could look like in the state while also focusing attention on the connection between Louisiana’s current development patterns and flood risk. With over $10 billion in damages, many individuals and families were left out of their homes for months. With multiple short- and long-term disruptions to people’s lives, the 2016 floods were a wakeup call. It became clear that Louisiana needed to systematically reconsider decisionmaking around land use, development, and infrastructure through the lens of current and future flood risk.
In addition, the 2016 flooding laid bare enormous economic and racial inequalities and community vulnerabilities in the built environment. It also crystalized that the undeniable long-term threats to future economic growth and fiscal health of the state could not be addressed without new sustainable land and water management practices.
In response, in 2018, Governor John Bel Edwards signed Executive Order JBE-2018-16 creating the Council on Watershed Management, and launched the Louisiana Watershed Initiative (LWI). The purpose of this effort was to begin creating programmatic and policy alignment at the state and regional levels by establishing eight regional watershed management entities. In 2020, a year in which Louisiana experienced the landfall of five tropical storms, the Louisiana Office of Community Development (OCD), received $1.2 billion in Community Development Block Grants for Mitigation or “CDBG-MIT” funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to support the LWI program.
For each of the eight watershed districts, OCD designated an organization to serve as coordinator for planning efforts. The Capital Region Planning Commission (CRPC) is a regional government in the Baton Rouge area and was selected to serve as the fiscal agent and coordinator for Region Seven. CRPC’s work has historically been driven towards achieving its goals as the local Council of Governments, Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Planning and Development District. CRPC’s expansion into issues of resilience and adaptation signals a vision for integrating work and taking a leadership role in these conversations as a regional government agency.
The Louisiana Region Seven Watershed encompasses the upper part of the toe of Louisiana’s boot. It spans eastward from the Mississippi River near Baton Rouge across the Northshore (i.e., north of Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas) to Mississippi and along the Mississippi River to the Bonnet Carré Spillway. The region includes 13 parishes and 45 incorporated municipalities.
Credit: Louisiana Watershed Initiative, Outreach and Engagement Toolkit 44 (2021), available at https://d10zxfp0rexahe.cloudfront.net/docs/LWI_OE-Toolkit-2021_9_15_web.pdf.
Region Seven overlaps with the ancestral lands of the Acolapissa, Bayougoula Choctaw, Chitimacha, and Houma tribes. The influence of Indigenous traditional knowledge and culture in this region is deeply rooted. Many of the names of rivers and places are from Indigenous languages. For example, Tangipahoa Parish (and River), is derived from the Choctaw name for the area, “Tanzipao,” which comes from two Choctaw words, “tonche” (corn) and “pahoha” (cob or inside) that translate to corncob. Similarly, a local river, Tchefuncte, is from another Choctaw word, “Hachofakti,” which is the Choctaw word for the chinquapin leaf.
Region Seven suffered extensive damages as a result of the 2016 floods and is a hotspot for residential and commercial development. The full extent of flood risk is still being understood within the region; however, it is clear that it exists on a spectrum from high-risk coastal and riverine environments facing the prospect of managed retreat or relocation to areas where flood risk is much lower to which people might be expected to move. Along this spectrum, the region must consider how to adapt to a future with greater flood risks and with population shifts and transitions due to both climate and non-climate drivers (e.g., people moving out of urban centers into more rural areas). As articulated in the state’s first Climate Action Plan:
All across Louisiana, people and ecosystems must adjust to the extremes of too much or too little water. Flooding — be it from storm surge, persistent high tides, increasingly heavy downpours, or rivers swollen from up-basin precipitation patterns — affects populations throughout the state. Even floods that do not force people from their homes disrupt lives, add financial and emotional stress to individuals and families, and strain resources that could be invested elsewhere.
1. La. Office of Cmty. Dev., Allocations, Common Application, Waivers and Alternative Requirements for Community Development Block Grant Mitigation Grantees, Further Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act, 2018 (Public Law 115-123) (published Aug. 30, 2019), available at View Source. | Back to contentBack to content
2. March 8-11 2016: Heavy Rain and Flooding, Nat’l Weather Serv., Nat’l Oceanic & Atmospheric Admiin., View Source (last visited Mar. 16, 2022); Steve Hardy & Amy Wold, In hard-hit Tangipahoa, hundreds rescued, damage expected to surge passed Hurricane Isaac level, The Advocate (Mar. 14, 2016, 4:34 PM), View Source. | Back to contentBack to content
3. August 2016 Record Flooding, Nat’l Weather Serv., Nat’l Oceanic & Atmospheric Admin., View Source (last visited Mar. 16, 2022). | Back to contentBack to content
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