Shreveport Dodges Disaster in 2015 Red River Flood


Statistics and Show” Cover Real River Danger

Disclaimer City of Shreveport
Is there a “liability”?

Shreveport City Engineering disclaimer: Copyright 2015. The City of Shreveport assumes no responsibility or legal liabililty* for the accuracy, completeness, reliability, timeliness, or usefulness of any information available on this map. For more up-to-date parcel information visit Caddo Assessor‘s Office.” (color, bold & italic actual spelling as noted is my addition!)

Perhaps this careless addition of a single letter, misspelling of “liability” in a Shreveport City Engineering disclaimer is a strangely appropriate omen. This particular map provided through Shreveport City Engineering, specifically requested in coordination with the Caddo Commission and a single commissioner, was an effort to disclose information that Shreveport Engineering doesn’t want the public to see, much less appreciate. These are facts carefully kept from public eyes that reveal both dangers to the public and government efforts that have assisted some private development at great public expense. Too many facts concerning work along the Red River Flood up until the flood dangers of 2015 sadly resemble “experts” quantifying how many angels really do fit on the head of a pin. Average citizens only see massive data that disguises the fact that much of southeast Shreveport dodged a very large bullet during the few days beginning June 5 and ending after the crest of the Red River in Shreveport June 8–9, 2015.

Diagram for reducing risk

Experts,” busy working political agendas concerning the June Red River levels, barely missed flooding large sections along the river, including connecting neighborhoods that lacked proper supervision and protection. Most facts now indicate that work completed 24 hours before the Red River crested saved the day and large section of high dollar business and residences. And, you don’t need a PhD in hydrology, geology, engineering or research methodology to appreciate the value of what you see in simple water-flow paths and words from those who work and have lived along the river. We still must draw conclusions, reinterpret the data and demand long-term solutions. And, we anticipate that future investigations into these issues will disclose the root of the problems and how we can avoid them in the future.(confusing contour line maps previously provided)

Jindal Press Conference on Flood June 2015
Jindal Press Conference on Flood June 2015

The best recent description of the issues with the Red River flood of 2015 was related at a meeting including City and Parish engineers, local emergency preparedness leaders and open for citizen input concerning river issues. Outside experts related that the Red River flood controls worked “exactly as expected above and below Shreveport,” but in are between Shreveport & Bossier City, it clearly did not! Citizens want answers why this was the case, and here are troubling issues about the flood. The NWS website lists the following concerning Red River at the Jimmie Davis Bridge:

Flood Categories (in feet)
Major Flood Stage: 33.0 ft
Moderate Flood Stage: 31.5 ft
Flood Stage: 30.0 ft
Action Stage: 26.0 ft
Recent Crests
(1) 31.05 ft on 06/30/2015
(2) 37.14 ft on 06/09/2015
(3) 29.45 ft on 11/01/2009
(4) 29.40 ft on 03/15/2001
(5) 29.80 ft on 03/05/2001

History proves to us how poorly we plan, and demonstrates how quickly we can lose it all or avoid disaster by the mere roll of the dice. When the Red River began to rise in late May and crested in early June many assumed we would avoid disaster because of our superior prior planning. However whatever you may have thought you learned about preparations by the Red River Waterway Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), or your local levee board, nothing could be further from the truth. And, as Paul Harvey said, “this is the rest of the story.” We believed data prepared by the National Weather Service, FEMA, and the USACE accurately described flooding potential, but we were wrong. Here are the most recent FEMA Flood Maps. Caddo Parish is not included in most recent revisions, and all reliable sources do not locate accurately flood potential along the western bank of the Red River near the Jimmie Davis Bridge.

As the water was rising along the Red River, some public officials took it upon themselves to survey the areas of the river that potentially would be affected by rising water. Caddo Commissioner Matthew Linn drove the Clyde Fant Parkway regularly and knew many of the property owners whose land was along the west bank of the river that was prone to flood. He called those who had livestock on some of the open land to check their preparations, and the questions he asked only created new concerns.

Milton Hamel with Commissioner Linn on June 7 survey preparations
Work shoring up barrier June 7, Milton Hamel & Commissioner Matthew Linn

The Hamel family owns land along the parkway and had other parcels that were subject to flooding, including the old Hamel’s Amusement Park, now River Park Church. When the river reached flood stage (30 feet), Commissioner Linn went to Dixie Garden, land in his district that is not in the city limits but had skirted danger because of its location along the river. Linn was aware of various culvert back-flow preventers that had previously been problematic when the river flooded. At the 911 call center, there were regular meetings of public officials and public safety employees, all who monitored the river as it approached the 29.5-foot flood stage, Wednesday, June 6.

Between 4807 and 4817 Dixie Garden Loop there is an open ditch between homes that is the primary path for water of Dixie Garden during rains as it flows toward the river. Traditionally water would flow only toward the river through a culvert under 70th street driven by gravity, but on this occasion, that was not the case.

In June, several “flow points” proved to be weak links that permitted Red River water to reach toward low-lying homes. On the morning of June 6, the river reached flood stage and the Caddo Parish Levee Board and Caddo Parish Commission employees were running pumps to push rising water back over the levee and out of Dixie Garden. This water movement kept Dixie Garden from flooding, and the LA DOTD was busy creating a temporary levee to keep the water out and protect adjacent and downstream properties near the old Hamel’s Park at the River Park Church. This work kept Dixie Garden from flooding, but moving water out of the neighborhood was not the ultimate solution. And, here is where the communication and work by Commissioner Linn, Milton Hamel and key coordination of public safety workers and administrators saved Shreveport and Caddo from potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

Less than 24 Hours before water tops barrier, the wall was completed(
Less than 24 Hours before water tops barrier, the wall was completed (June 6-7)

A call to Milton Hamel by Linn on June 6 at 7:15 AM, as the river was above the 29.5 foot flood stage, verified two very real unrecognized problems that government flood mitigation officials could resolve. Hamel was familiar with the river area around the old Hamel’s Amusement Park and the connectivity path of water flow points near the river. Linn asked Hamel to go with him to survey sections more prone to flooding that were displaying troubling water movement. Hamel pointed out the critical open sections not properly reinforced under the Jimmy Davis Bridge as well as additional weak spots along the parkway.

Daryl Bass, engineering specialist for Caddo Parish and Shreveport Police Captain Larry Cunningham, who is over the east Shreveport area, went with Hamel and Linn to survey and mark weak points near the river as well as all connectivity pipes normally used to move water toward the river. The critical points of concern were under and adjacent to the Jimmie Davis Bridge included equalizer connector pipes that moved water between various draining catch basins. The catch basins are joined to use gravity flow to divert inland water toward larger holding areas and eventually along to the river in times of heavy rain.

Pumps and lines set for last-minute protection of Dixie Garden
Pumps and lines set for last-minute protection of Dixie Garden on East 70th

Once aware of the dangers Hamel and Linn made their case to Shreveport Chief Administrative Officer Brian Crawford, who brought in Patrick Furlong, Shreveport Assistant Director of Water and Sewage, to coordinate construction of a wall of Hesco Bastion Baskets.. These five-foot tall interlocking baskets stack up to three high and were set between lanes under the Jimmie Davis Bridge on Clyde Fant Parkway. Furlong shot a transit to determine the proper points to locate the baskets, and his perfect location, as well as quick coordinated effort with the Louisiana National Guard and local Mitchell Pabst, platoon leader, created the wall less than 24 hours before the water surpassed existing primary containment.

The level of the crest of the Red River eventually topped sections of the first level of five-foot baskets that were already constructed on top of the six-inch median. This water, if unchecked would have been six to seven feet above the level of the containment ponds at the bridge and raised all connecting water paths accordingly. Only with these baskets and blockage of the equalizer pipers was multi-million dollar damage averted.

Shreveport CAO Crawford, the former Shreveport Fire Chief, coordinated divers from the Shreveport Fire Department who placed sandbags on the opening in the equalizer pipe on the east of the Clyde Fant Parkway to keep river water from backing into the city. It was necessary for the equalizer pipes to be blocked, as the higher river back-flow was permitting river water to move inland and potentially flood all property at or below river level. Some of this work had been previously delayed, but it was completed just in time to avert disaster.

Hasco Baskets - June 7
Hasco Baskets – June 7 – water rose above the first section of baskets at the lowest point.

Between the time Hesco Basket work began and the river crested, additional small containment dams were built around open flow pipes and large portable pumps were positioned to push back-flow away from structures. It must be noted that these bags, even stacked higher could not have contained the weight and height the water reached. The river continued to rise an additional one-and-a-half feet, and this rise, along with sand boil pressures, would have pushed flood waters into the area at the bridge along with unrestrained paths. Water would have pushed as much as two feet onto every street in Island Park Subdivision and beyond the Champion Lake Apartments. And every ground level house not protected by plugged surface-water drainage in these areas would have had several inches of water inside. Sand Boils had not been visible along this section of the levee until the primary breach in the barrier wall as the river rose to over 34 feet. The sand boils were properly worked to stop flooding as the river crested at 37.14 feet.

The next layer of restraining levees to hold back the rising water, had it passed through at the bridge, would have been along Knight Street, the internal northern Dixie Garden levee and the Eastern Captain Shreve levee. All Champion Lake apartments and residences would have been included in the property likely to sustain hundreds of millions of dollars of damage had water passed to this barrier. Those areas with underground electrical service would have been without power, and the eastern section of the city would have been temporarily uninhabitable.

Buying time with sandbags June 7
Buying time with sandbags June 7

Simply put, We dodged disaster because we were all lucky. The right people were in the right place at the right time when it came to recognizing the potential flooding that nearly cost many Caddo citizens their homes or businesses. The Red River flood was more powerful and still could have been worse. Most people forget that the river was still rising near the Jimmy Davis Bridge the first week of June and it was going to remain above this level for many weeks with very little rain the last two weeks!

The work documented on Youtube shows the first stage of reinforcements added at the levee, but the parish, City of Shreveport and Corp of Engineers need to publicly review facts to indicate which homes, businesses and land was at risk by work that very nearly went undone. If this gap in the system had not been filled, many properties would have been immediately subject to water above floor level.

A topographic map originally supplied by City Engineering of the of the area reveals far more homes could have had up to a foot of water had the additional protection not been added to existing flood support structures. For several weeks discussions and emails were traded with Shreveport government officials concerning a map* that was shown during the flood preparations up until the time the river crested. Contour lines on this and other maps indicate the first homes and property to be affected immediately to the west of the newly erected protection along the north side of East 70th Street at the bridge. These properties include a church and adjacent Dixie Garden properties of many citizens. This is first path water would have taken had the original alert not generated a proper response, and the response occurred too late. Milton Hamel was particularly appreciative for work completed that proved successful.

Contour map supplied by city
Contour map supplied by city

An accurate contour map(detailed download map here) indicating more exactly which properties that fall below the 37.14 crest level of the river should have been available and utilized in the response, however Shreveport City Engineering almost cost many citizens millions of dollars in damages. At least one member of this department did not quickly respond to the alert and then determined worked to keep the public from seeing this information. The requested the map was only produced when Parish Administrator Woody Wilson made calls as requested by commissioners. We believe more accurate maps can be produced to indicate the potential danger to all properties connected by unprotected equilibrium and overflow drainage pipes. We suggest this map yellow marked overlay is a conservative indication of sections that would have had serious flood damage.

Future flood plans need to include all sections of land, culverts and equilibrium pipes marked for immediate attention and water routes to be checked when the Red River rises. All south-east Shreveport and Caddo Parish near this bridge should be a protected with the new information and lessons from a lucky response.

Water Level-at wall-How High
Red River crest topped the first level of five-foot baskets constructed on top of the six-inch median. Serious flood damage averted!
How high was the river crest?
How high was the river crest?

*Map Provided by Engineering