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Conference to examine Louisiana’s complex relationship with water

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The promise and peril of water in the Bayou State will be the focus of H20/LA, a public symposium Aug. 14 at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The marriage between Louisiana and water is complicated. The all-day conference at the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise Center on campus will offer a multidisciplinary examination of ecological, geographical, legal and cultural issues that have defined that relationship for generations.

Two floods – separated by nine decades – will serve as the day’s backdrop.

The symposium marks the one-year anniversary of the August 2016 floods, which affected 56 of the state’s 64 parishes and damaged an estimated 110,000 homes.

This year is also the 90th anniversary of the Flood of 1927, which then-U.S. Secretary of Commerce (and later president) Herbert Hoover described as “the greatest peacetime calamity in the history of the country.”

The flood inundated 16.5 million acres in seven Southern and Midwestern states, displaced more than 931,000 people and caused $400 million in damage. Between 250 and 500 people died. In Louisiana alone, 10,000 square miles in 20 parishes flooded.

Historian John M. Barry will be the symposium’s keynote speaker. Many scholars consider his 1997 book, “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America,” the definitive account of the crisis.

The floods in 1927 and 2016 were both pivotal for Louisiana, said Dr. Liz Skilton, an assistant professor of history who’s coordinating the conference.

“Having John Barry as our keynote will connect this present discussion of water with an historical moment when people were also discussing how much of a role water should play in their lives,” Skilton said.

“These events will be the day’s bookends, with our present and our past coming together through a discussion of water.”

A panel dedicated to the 2016 floods will precede Barry’s keynote, set for 6 p.m.

Afternoon sessions will include a screening of “American Crisis, American Shame,” a documentary that explores the national implications of coastal erosion.

The symposium is free, but organizers recommend reservations. A complete schedule of events is available here.

The conference’s sponsors are UL Lafayette’s Center for Louisiana Studies and College of Liberal Arts, the Jamie and Thelma Guilbeau Charitable Trust, and the Haynie Family Foundation.

The LITE Center’s address is 537 Cajundome Blvd.