In watershed regions across the country, and within Region Seven, local governments are increasingly recognizing a need to collaborate at regional scales to alleviate challenges associated with flooding. Water does not respect jurisdictional boundaries; it will flow to lower-lying areas using the path of least resistance.See footnote 1 This reality can create challenges for downstream communities that cannot be easily — or even entirely — resolved by these communities on their own. Collaboration and coordination with upstream communities across regional and watershed scales are important for the resilience and safety of people as well as infrastructure and ecosystems in flood-prone regions. Ultimately, a watershed-based approach can help yield greater flood mitigation outcomes.See footnote 2
Credit: Rachelle Sanderson, Region Seven Watershed Coordinator, Capital Region Planning Commission.
In Louisiana, this need for regional approaches to flood mitigation was especially apparent following the historic 2016 floods, leading to the creation of the Louisiana Watershed Initiative (LWI) and a goal of regional, watershed-based flood risk management.See footnote 3 The state has recognized the need to work “within the interdependencies of [its] communities, infrastructure, political jurisdictions, and natural environment to increase Louisiana’s resilience and its ability to adapt and thrive.”See footnote 4 LWI is designed to facilitate intra- and inter-watershed collaboration to improve governance and decisionmaking around investments that will improve flood mitigation.
This is no easy task, however. Funding is limited, and local governments are accustomed to thinking about physical infrastructure investments in terms of what they can do within their own jurisdictional bounds to achieve better outcomes for their communities. Regional watershed-scale planning and decisionmaking requires consideration of larger-scale complex relationships in the built and natural environments, and in certain instances, advocating for investments that are outside a given parish or municipal government’s own authority in the interest of greater regional resilience. This objective aims to “greaux” regional resilience by calling for Region Seven parishes and local governments to work together in identifying built or natural infrastructure investments that maximize flood mitigation outcomes for the region — focusing especially on needs of downstream communities.
Regional coordination and governance are challenging. However, as noted in the Introduction to this Regional Vision, Region Seven parishes and municipalities already have a mechanism in place in the LWI through which to coordinate on setting priorities for investments that will mitigate downstream flooding. Although the regional steering committees established in each of the LWI regions are not legislatively authorized entities as of early 2022, for purposes of region-wide watershed management and decisionmaking, they have served as a starting point for parishes and other authorities within each LWI region to build relationships and a common practice of collaboration and coordination, which is critical to the success of any regional governance effort — regardless of the level of formal decisionmaking authority.
A regional governance analysis completed by the LWI for Region Seven indicated that there are multiple authorities across the region involved in water management roles, none of which have the authority to operate throughout the entire watershed region.See footnote 5 Within each individual parish, parish and municipal governments hold the majority of authorities relevant to mitigating flooding impacts, including adopting and enforcing of land-use and zoning ordinances, developing watershed management plans and floodplain management standards, generating revenue through taxation and bonding, and implementing projects.See footnote 6
The Regional Capacity Building Grant Program (RCBG) was developed as one component of the LWI to help the eight regions initially build capacity for coordination, develop regional steering committees, and make recommendations for work plans and long-term watershed coalitions.See footnote 7 Each region submitted final recommendations for a long-term watershed coalition in August 2021. Phase 2 of the RCBG Program is intended to support continued flood risk reduction efforts and to implement recommendations for the long-term watershed coalitions.See footnote 8
In the absence of a legislatively authorized regional governing entity for watershed management for Region Seven, or in the interim until such an entity is created, Region Seven parishes and municipalities should continue to work together in assessing flood risks and mitigation needs that would best serve the region. However, there are additional options for Region Seven local governments in the absence of a state-established regional governance structure for watershed-based planning.
Local governments in Louisiana have options for formalizing agreements to jointly develop projects, including for flood control and drainage, or to engage in other joint exercises of local powers,See footnote 9 and regional planning commissions are authorized to form associations for the purposes of broader regional planning efforts.See footnote 10 Parishes are also authorized to form drainage districts that span more than one parish,See footnote 11 which could be a useful tool for addressing cross-boundary drainage and flooding challenges at smaller watershed scales. Regional governance (i.e., decisionmaking) can take a variety of forms, though, and does not necessarily have to be formalized to be effective. Many regional collaboratives across the United States are demonstrating the values of coordinating regionally — yet informally (i.e., without formal regional authority) — to build resilience.See footnote 12
Regardless of formality, regional coordination can be an effective capacity-building tool and a way to pool and leverage limited resources, share knowledge and expertise, and undertake studies that can inform regional to local decisionmaking. In the context of planning for investments that will improve resilience at regional scales, regional collaboration could take the form of:
Any of these activities, undertaken in partnership, could help Region Seven parishes build flood resilience within communities and at the broader regional scale.
For more information on regional coordination and governance more broadly, see Objective 5.4.
When identifying and promoting ways to promulgate or expand regional collaboration, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips that apply to each of the above types of tools and actions:
These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including those related to regional coordination and new capacity-building partnerships.
It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.
The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.
2. For example, early results from the implementation of Watershed Management Authorities in the State of Iowa have shown flood peak reductions. See Ind. Univ. Pub. Policy Inst., Watershed Governance to Protect Communities From Flood Risks and Water Quality Degradation, Iss. 19-C23 (Jul. 2019), available at View Source. | Back to contentBack to content
3. La. Exec. Order No. JBE 2018 — 16, Louisiana Watershed-Based Floodplain Management Coordination (2018). Back to contentBack to content
6. Id. at 69–70. Back to contentBack to content
9. La. Stat. Ann. § 33:1324 (2022) (“Any parish, municipality or political subdivision of the state, or any combination thereof, may make agreements between or among themselves to engage jointly in the construction, acquisition or improvement of any public project or improvement, the promotion and maintenance of any undertaking or the exercise of any power, provided that at least one of the participants to the agreement is authorized under a provision of general or special law to perform such activity or exercise such power as may be necessary for the completion of the undertaking. Such arrangements may provide for the joint use of funds, facilities, personnel or property or any combination thereof necessary to accomplish the purposes of the agreement, and such agreements may include but are not limited to activities concerning: […] (6) Flood control, drainage, and reclamation projects.”). Back to contentBack to content
10. La. Stat. Ann. § 33:135.1 (2022) (“Any two or more of the regional planning commissions are authorized to form an association for the purpose of coordinating comprehensive planning and development programs for the resolution of economic, social, physical, and governmental problems of the state and its citizens.”). Back to contentBack to content
11. La. Rev. Stat. § 38:1603 (2022) (“When it seems desirable in the opinion of the parish governing authorities acting on their own initiative, to create drainage districts composed of contiguous lands situated partly in one parish and partly in one or more adjoining parishes, the drainage district may be created either by a joint resolution of the respective governing authorities of the parishes or by an ordinance of the governing authority of one of the parishes approved by the governing authority of the other parish or parishes.”). Back to contentBack to content
15. Id. at 17. Back to contentBack to content
16. Unified Sea Level Rise Projections, Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact, View Source (last visited May 10, 2022); Southeast Florida Climate Indicators, Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact, View Source (last visited May 10, 2022); Regional Greenhouse Gas Inventory: Transportation and Stationary Energy, Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact, View Source (last visited May 10, 2022). | Back to contentBack to content