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Monday, March 8, 2021

ReForm Shreveport

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City uses data from water outage map

A couple of days into last month’s major winter storm — a rare snow and ice event which put Shreveport-Bossier into a weeklong deep freeze — Luke Lee and his family learned something.

“We got a fancy new tankless water heater when we moved into this house,” Lee said. “Turns out, tankless water heaters don’t heat water if there’s not enough water pressure. We went to wash dishes and wash clothes, and there wasn’t any hot water — and very little water at all.”

The Lees, who live in Shreveport’s Anderson Island neighborhood, certainly weren’t alone. Thousands upon thousands of homes and businesses were without water — or had very low water pressure — resulting from leaks and broken lines throughout Shreveport.

So Lee, who is a founding member of the group ReForm Shreveport, had an idea.

“Hey, we should put together a water outage map,” Lee texted other members. “I know I would like to see who else’s water is out, but I don’t know if anybody else wants to see that.”

“I thought if I could put it together, we might have a couple of hundred submissions — if we’re lucky.”

We should all be so lucky. Lee went to work. Not repairing a water line, but developing a map which would — with data submitted by the public — show people where the water problems were and how quickly those problems were being repaired.

“Part of the impetus in creating the map was seeing all of the talk on the (Facebook) neighborhood pages,” Lee said. “Anytime anything happens, there are multiple posts about it and hundreds of comments. I was just seeing a lot of talk and no real centralized communication about that. I did not think this map would become that central point, but it did — very quickly.”

After one day, 5,000 people had submitted their data. By the end of Lee’s two-week project, there were 10,000 entries.

“The real reason I did it is that I had a suspicion that, like me, other people didn’t quite have a full grasp at that point how big the problem was,” Lee said. “Because of that, that was causing a lot of conversation and stress online and pointing of fingers. I felt like if I could put something out there, where the data would show something interesting, it would at least give people some solace that they aren’t alone.”

Lee says the city of Shreveport took notice.

“Keith Hanson (Shreveport’s Chief Technology Officer) reached out two or three days in and asked if they could integrate the data into their maps behind the scenes,” Lee said.

“They took the data and used it loosely. I don’t know how much it informed any decisions or anything, but they definitely had it in their hands and were able to watch along with everybody as repairs were made.”

Lee’s map was an example of a bigger picture ReForm Shreveport hopes to paint.

“We just want to build that culture of engagement and trust between all these different parties so that we can all work together to solve some of the common problems we face in this city,” said Tim Wright, the group’s director and founder. “We don’t have an official partnership with the city. We want to be as connected as we can because we are passionate about wanting to give city leaders the tools to do what they need to do.” (See water outage map: https://www. reformshreveport.com/winterstorm.)

Wright, a civil engineer, is from Dallas. He moved to Shreveport six years ago, after graduating from LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.

“I had become involved in a lot of different community organizations,” Wright said of his first year in Shreveport, “and wanted to contribute. I live downtown and met some friends who live or work downtown or in the general core of the city. We all just kind of have a mutual passion for wanting to see the city thrive.

To that end, one ReForm Shreveport project of which Wright is especially proud involves Highland Park at the corner of Gilbert and Olive streets.

“We knocked on doors in the blocks surrounding the park,” Wright recalled. “The city had some bond money they were spending on improvements. They ended up using both our recommendations as a group and some of the survey data we collected from the residents. For example, some of the residents said they really wanted a new playground. There are a lot of families with kids in that area.”

And before long, Highland Park had a playground, bike racks and a new walking path.

“I think that having a group like us that tries to take some citizen concerns and put them into some type of format which government officials can respond to in an organized way is definitely helpful.”

Just ask the folks who live near Highland Park.

Just ask the folks who went days with little or no water.

For more information on ReForm Shreveport, you may visit www.reformshreveport.com.

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