Did LFT’s drainage bonanza pass its first test?

The Vermilion River scrapes against the Surrey Street bridge after rains from Tropical Storm Barry. Photo courtesy The Acadiana Advocate

The gist: A minor storm offered the first test — or maybe a quiz — of many new drainage improvements in Lafayette last week to mixed results.

Lafayette caught 4.2 inches of rain in the span of six hours at the airport’s weather station early Friday morning, amounting to a fairly weak 5-year storm. Western parts of the parish, where rainfall was heavier, saw as much as 6 inches across 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service.

That doesn’t usually cause much flooding in Lafayette, though it led the Vermilion River to run backwards into the Bayou Tortue Swamp for hours and raised water in Coulee Ile des Cannes nearly to its banks by Ridge Road, where Lafayette Consolidated Government recently dug 85 acres of new detention ponds. Those ponds had little impact since they haven’t yet been directly connected to the coulee, though one did take water from an adjoining channel.

It was a gentle test of Lafayette’s recent drainage improvements, with good signs emerging as LCG’s coulee gauges showed water levels receding by late Friday morning and recently built or improved detention ponds took stormwater out of drainage channels in flood-prone areas, like the Quail Hollow subdivision near Comeaux High School. Whether those improvements will be up to the task in larger storms that actually threaten substantial flooding remains to be seen

But not everywhere was spared, and the oft-flooded corner of Convent and Jefferson streets Downtown again fell victim to the stormwaters of a relatively minor rain event. Pop’s Poboys was delayed opening Friday morning, and Root Floral Design in the Juliette Hotel building took on water as well.

That’s despite a major drainage project at that location completed by LCG last year that added just over 40,000 gallons of underground stormwater storage below the lawn outside the old City Hall. LCG CAO Cydra Wingerter told the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting that cypress needles had clogged the drainage inlets, saying, “There’s a specific time that they fall and that they accumulate very quickly. Within an hour of that being reported, the crews had cleared that area.”

Downtown remains a key area of concern for flooding, even as the City Council moved ahead Tuesday with plans to take $2.2 million from drainage improvements there to settle an expropriation lawsuit. Several other underground detention basins are in the works for the city center, but their limited capacity and their vulnerability to disruption raise questions about their viability as a solution to Downtown’s flood risk.