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LSU Shreveport hydrologist is eager to analyze Red River flood data

Kate Archer Kent

The director of the Red River Watershed Management Institute returned to his research lab Tuesday, once flood waters receded. It was Gary Hanson’s first look since water surrounded the building and edged up the side of the levee. The LSU Shreveport water research facility was built between the water and levee on purpose.

“We cut the power before the flood just in case,” Hanson said, flicking on the lights and breathing a sigh of relief.

No damage. The institute in the Red River Education and Research Park was built on stilts next to an oxbow lake formed after the 1945 flood. Hanson’s floating dock and its instrumentation were all designed to sustain a bigger flood.

The river used to overflow into low areas. But now, according to Hanson, with so much development in the flood plain, the water has nowhere to go.

“The river’s been cut off because they’ve taken sand out of it and built these massive apartment complexes up on that sand -- 12 to 15 feet high. That’s a square mile that normally would have been able to flood. Every time you build something in here it’s going to make it worse for people upstream,” Hanson said.

A lot has changed since the river’s historic 1945 flood. A system of locks and dams opened up recreation and commerce. Hanson thinks about all the new highways and parking lots. All that runoff impacts the river. But the new development inside the levee is the most problematic.

“We’re literally making it a choke point or a pour point hydrologically for our watershed. That’s what Shreveport is. It’s the pour point for so much of the drainage of the Red River basin,” Hanson said. “The more we build down in this area, the more it makes a flume effect. That’s one reason I believe the flooding has been worse in Shreveport and Bossier.”

Hanson will gather data from the institute’s acoustic Doppler on the river – if it survived. The Doppler data can reveal the flood’s velocity and its amount of sediment flow. Under normal conditions, the Red River travels at a velocity of around 29,000 cubic feet per second. Hanson estimates that, during the flood, the water’s velocity reached 210,000 cubic feet per second.

Credit Kate Archer Kent
The Red River Watershed Management Institute is built on stilts and designed to withstand major flooding.

He hopes to get funding to thoroughly compare this flood to historical data. It will help inform decisions about the Red River in the future.

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