Stormwater and New Orleans

A summary of the beginnings of Living with Water in New Orleans and the UC's involvement with stormwater management.

bayou-with-joggersIn recent times, stormwater management in New Orleans has been characterized by regularly overwhelmed drainage systems, excessive paving and pumping that has depleted groundwater levels and led to a sinking city, and urban water assets being wasted while hidden behind walls, underground, or pumped into the river and lake. All of these issues and the failure of traditional infrastructure (levees, pipes and pumps) to protect the city from Hurricane Katrina, continuous flooding, and subsidence has led to a shift in mindset regarding the most effective and thoughtful way to manage stormwater in South Louisiana. It is clear that the single-minded approach of rushing stromwater over pavement, into pipes and pumping it out of the city needs to be reevaluated.

History

In September of 2013, Waggonner & Ball Architects released the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan. The plan was a result of the Dutch Dialogues and the culmination of the collaborative efforts of officials, professionals, advocates, and community members who began to question current practices while taking a serious look at the place of natural processes in the urban environment. The GNO Urban Water Plan calls for a tandem approach to stormwater management that utilizes natural processes to decrease reliance on and take pressure off of grey infrastructure systems, while celebrating the region’s abundant water resources.

Natural processes slow, store and filter stormwater where it July_2012_2falls, allowing it to return to the groundwater system. Natural process based solutions are commonly known as stormwater BMP’s and/or “green infrastructure” and include systems such as canals and waterways, rain gardens, permeable pavement, floating streets, retention ponds, constructed wetlands and other bioretention systems that slow, store and filter stormwater. Programs underway in cities such as Seattle, Portland and Philadelphia are prime examples of the potential held by these sorts of solutions.

Action

Since the release of the Water Plan, momentum has begun to build here in New Orleans and many organizations around town working to promote sustainable stormwater management:

  • Non-profits such as Global Green, Parkway Partners, Water Works, and the Urban Conservancy are working to educate the public (including public officials) and implement exciting programs around the city.
  • Private firms including Waggonner & Ball, Evans & Lighter, and Dana Brown & Assoc. are working to transform both the public and private domain through innovative stormwater design practices.
  • Local government is contributing to large-scale green infrastructure implementation. Sewage and Water Board’s Green Infrastructure RFP 2014 is funding 7 initiatives whose focus is stormwater management and will invest $500,000 a year up until 2018 for a total of $2.5 million invested in green infrastructure projects. Article 23 places stormwater management requirements that emphasize BMP’s on all new commercial developments in Orleans Parish that are over 10,000 sq. ft.

On September 26, 2014, the GNO Urban Water Collaborative held its inaugural press conference on the banks of Bayou St. John in Mid-City. The collaborative represents one hundred organizations working together to address critical water issues throughout the region and the sort of collective effort that will necessary to move New Orleans towards the more “safe, sustainable and beautiful future” outlined by the Urban Water Plan.

Supporting sustainable stormwater management in New Orleans can be achieved through large scale infrastructure and small scale interventions on private properties. To get involved with this important issue through volunteering or improving stormwater management on your own property, contact us at dana@urbanconservancy.org.

Learn more about the UC’s stormwater initiatives BASIN and FYI.

Update 12

Jul 2021

New Orleans pavement

“As record-breaking heat waves sweep the United States, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell has committed New Orleans to a global initiative to expand urban green space, with a goal of cooling the city and reducing flooding. Her pledge, on the heels of New Orleans’ fifth wettest spring since 1871, comes as climate data portends progressively warmer and wetter weather in the decades to come.

Cantrell joined 30 other mayors who signed onto to New York-based nonprofit C40’s latest international declaration to adapt to climate change. The declaration requires participating cities to ensure that 30% to 40% of their built-up surface are covered in green or permeable spaces by 2030. Currently, New Orleans sits at about 20%, said Rebecca Ilunga, C40’s water security network manager…”

Read the rest of the story on NOLA.com

Update 11

Jun 2021

Via Biz New Orleans, article by Rich Collins.

Thumbnail Img 3034Photo credit: Thrive Works Green

NEW ORLEANS – Jerusalem Baptist Church and Stronger Hope Baptist Church, both located in New Orleans’ Hoffman Triangle neighborhood, have completed the installation of permeable paving and green spaces designed to reduce flooding during heavy rain events.

Work on the Jerusalem project was completed by Thrive Works Green, a nonprofit workforce training program.

“Our program is truly one of a kind,” said Chuck Morse, Thrive executive director, in a press release. “We use a holistic approach, walking alongside our trainees before, during and after the program to ensure their needs are met, whether it’s with a weekly stipend, soft skills, mental health support, etc. After they graduate, we connect them directly with contract opportunities.”

Read more of this story here.

Update 10

Dec 2020

The Life Raft Podcast (hosted by Tegan Wendland and Travis Lux) discussed green stormwater infrastructure and its role in aiding our frequently flooding city.

“When it rains, it pours. And when it pours, it floods.

More and more, that appears to be the situation down South. In New Orleans, several big rain storms in recent years have turned streets into rivers and flooded homes and cars.

This week on Life Raft: flooding. What can we do about it?”

Update 9

Sep 2020

Press Release on Biz New Orleans

New Orleans, LA, September 24, 2020 — Since Katrina, New Orleans leaders have looked for innovative ways to relieve pressure on the city’s pumping systems during storms and other heavy rain events. Many are advocating for more “green stormwater infrastructure” that will allow the ground to soak up water that would otherwise be sent to catch basins.

Unlike curbs, gutters and drains that move stormwater from a built environment into a nearby body of water, green infrastructure is designed to capture the rain water where it falls. Picture an impermeable parking lot, for instance, that’s been converted into one built with a permeable paving system on top of soil that has been conditioned to enhance its ability to take on water. If you’ve been to Parkway Bakery and Tavern near Bayou St. John, you can picture what it looks like.

A lot of people – from the federal government down to local contractors – have been getting involved in GSI projects. The Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Sewerage and Water Board and the City of New Orleans are collaborating on a campaign called “Every Drop Makes a Difference.” The Gentilly Resilience District, meanwhile, will use a $141 million federal grant to create water features, permeable sidewalks and other water-management infrastructure.

One local nonprofit that’s focused on residential GSI projects is the Urban Conservancy, which just released a report on its Front Yard Initiative based on survey responses from 68 of the homeowners who have participated in the program. In five years, the initiative has raised approximately $100k from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Wisner Foundation and other benefactors and used the funds to pay a portion of the cost of residential GSI projects citywide.

Urban Conservancy’s Dana Eness said the good news is that the study shows that “green stormwater infrastructure actually works,” and the functionality only increases over time as plants and their root systems have become fully established.

Continue reading at Biz New Orleans

Update 8

Sep 2020

An example of long-term impacts of residential GSI

Residential GSI Reduces Flooding

September 2020– Read the Front Yard Initiative’s (FYI) report, published September 2020

FYI’s 2020 Green Stormwater Infrastructure Homeowner survey findings demonstrate that homeowners can significantly decrease flooding on their properties while reducing runoff to storm drains by removing impermeable pavement and installing green stormwater infrastructure (GSI). 

The Urban Conservancy (UC) surveyed FYI participants who completed their gray-to-green projects from 2015 to December 2019 to assess the long term benefits and issues with residential GSI. Of the 78 eligible respondents 68 completed the survey (or 86%). 

The results of this study support the notion that GSI has many beneficial effects: reducing localized flooding, beautifying outdoor space, bringing back lost habitats, stimulating local economies and more. FYI participants have even reported compounding effects; as their rain gardens and native plants grow in they continue to see greater benefits. 

“This data has incredibly positive implications for New Orleans as we continue to look for ways to reduce the risk to people and property that comes with our increasingly intense rainfall events,” says Dana Eness, Executive Director of the Urban Conservancy. “It shows that residential GSI, when properly installed, is effective, economical, not overly burdensome to maintain, and enhances community safety and quality of life by reducing frequency and severity of flooding while keeping thousands of gallons of water per rain event out of our streets, catch basins, and pumping system.” 

FYI strives not only to incentivize homeowners to remove impermeable pavement, but also to advocate, inspire and to help guide New Orleans into a more sustainable future. It is our hope and our goal that this report may bring a greater understanding and awareness of the importance of GSI on residential properties and that this in turn increases the implementation of GSI. We want to thank all of our FYI participants and green sector contractors for their indispensable help in bringing New Orleans that much closer to a green future!

Update 7

Jul 2020

Press Release on Biz New Orleans

For Immediate Release

NEW ORLEANS, LA, July 20, 2020 ––  Homeowners, contractors, and green sector specialists join the Urban Conservancy Tuesday, July 21, at 5:30 pm for a Zoom call to release new survey findings demonstrating that homeowners can significantly reduce flooding on their properties while reducing runoff to our catch basins by installing green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) like rain gardens, rain barrels, and permeable paving systems. 

The UC conducted a survey of 68 homeowners who participated in their Front Yard Initiative between 2015 and 2019 to assess long term benefits and issues with residential GSI. “This data has incredibly positive implications for New Orleans as we continue to look for ways to reduce the risk to people and property that comes with our increasingly intense rainfall events,” says Dana Eness, Executive Director of the Urban Conservancy. “It shows that residential GSI, when properly installed, is effective, economical, not overly burdensome to maintain, and enhances community safety and quality of life by reducing frequency and severity of flooding while keeping thousands of gallons of water per rain event out of our streets, catch basins, and pumping system.”

The findings of this study are consistent with what several recent studies in other cities around the country have also documented: dollars invested in GSI generate multiple benefits like reducing localized flooding and subsidence while spurring economic activity that supports well-paying jobs and businesses.

Eness hopes this data will serve as a catalyst for development of a coordinated, data-driven strategy that places residents and contractors implementing GSI at the center of the conversation.  “Building a blue-green sector that advances racial equity and economic security is the task before us. For every resident who installs green infrastructure, and for every contractor who installs it, there are countless others who are inspired by it and ready to do the same but don’t have the necessary resources, guidance or skills they need to participate,” says Eness.


What: Residential Green Infrastructure in New Orleans: Key Findings from the Front Yard Initiative

When: Tuesday, July 21, 2020 5:30 – 6:30 pm

Where: Zoom

Register here


Read more here >

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About the Urban Conservancy: The Urban Conservancy is a non-profit organization leading and collaborating to strengthen New Orleans’ urban environment and local economy through equitable practices, policies and programs. We engage in hands-on programming to alleviate neighborhood flooding and create green sector job opportunities through our Front Yard Initiative. Learn more at urbanconservancy.org/fyi

 

 

Update 6

Jul 2020

UC and Launch NOLA staff members oversee a green front yard project

Southeast Sustainability Directors Network (SSDN) recently published an article featuring the Urban Conservancy and the Front Yard Initiative titled “A Green Lining to New Orleans Storm Clouds: How a new nonprofit coalition is teaching neighbors how they can create solutions for flooding in their community“.

In the article, Daria Uporsky of SSDN discusses the cooperation between the New Orleans Office of Resilience & Sustainability and Umbrella. Umbrella is a coalition of nonprofit partners including the Front Yard Initiative, Green Light New Orleans, SOUL, and Launch NOLA.

“By testing strategies in Hoffman Triangle”, Uporsky notes, “they hope that their new models can be scaled to other neighborhoods, and ultimately contribute to increased resilience across the city.”

>>Read more about Umbrella here!

 

 

Update 5

Feb 2020

A growing number of locals are calling for a greener Mardi Gras, but weaning ourselves from cheap plastic won’t be easy.

Nathan Simpson looked at home amid the chaotic swirl of costumed revelers at the recent krewedelusion parade lineup, sporting a blue bodysuit and peering through glowing red lenses at the crowd. Tonight he was Recyclops, and he had a mission: to collect all the aluminum cans and plastic bottles he could get his hands on.

Simpson is one of about 20 members of the Trashformers, Mardi Gras’ first recycling-themed marching krewe. While recycling is the focus, the group, founded in 2019 by local architect Brett Davis, hopes to spark a broader conversation about Mardi Gras waste, including the plastic beads and throws now synonymous with the season.

The interactive recycling Krewe: The Trashformers! Photo by Matthew Hinton

Members dress in eco-pun costumes (Simpson’s Recyclops, inspired by Marvel X-Men superhero Cyclops, was joined by a Pacific Garbage Patch Kid and Oscar the Recycling Grouch), and deploy a fleet of lime-green shopping carts to collect cans and bottles directly from parade-goers.

Simpson, a New Orleans native, said he joined Trashformers to show that we can be responsible without killing the Mardi Gras fun. He grew up going to parades and loves Carnival krewes and balls, but the waste is a problem, he said.

It’s not about changing Mardi Gras, Simpson said, “it’s about changing the culture of how we experience Mardi Gras.”

Simpson isn’t alone. As New Orleans faces a host of ecological threats — climate change, sinking land and flooding to name a few — a growing number of locals are calling for an environmental reboot of the city’s Carnival experience, and a break from the throw-away culture and cheap plastic beads and trinkets ubiquitous at parades.

This year, several large krewes, including Rex and Bacchus, have publicized efforts to cut back on the amount of plastic members throw. Arc of Greater New Orleans, which sorts and re-sells beads, employing adults with disabilities in the process, reports donations more than tripled to 190 tons ahead of Mardi Gras 2020. Even the City Council weighed in, approving a new ordinance that bans riders from throwing the plastic bags that beads are packaged in.

Volunteers collect beads for recycling at ARCGNO as they trail the day parades on Sunday, February 23, 2020. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

Is a greener, plastic-free Mardi Gras possible? Sustainability advocates are optimistic, though they acknowledge it will require a major cultural shift. The answer is more complicated for krewes and riders.

“It’s about changing the culture of how we experience Mardi Gras.”

Cheap plastic trinkets underpin the economics of the season, allowing krewes to attract riders and generate revenue. Wholesalers make millions of dollars on the roughly 25 million pounds of beads imported from China every year, and parade-goers have come to expect a deluge of loot on the route.

Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans are big and bountiful, and that generates a lot of money for the city and local businesses, said Dan Kelly, president of the Krewe of Endymion, whose 3,200 riders each toss 500 pounds of throws on average. Kelly also owns Beads by the Dozen, a wholesaler that imports roughly 5 million pounds of throws each year.

“If you make it too expensive for people to throw these greatest shows on Earth for free, New Orleans is going to dry up,” Kelly said. “It’s not going to be the city that we’re known for.”

At the same time, the cost of cleaning up after parades is rising and taxpayers are footing the bill. The City of New Orleans spent $1.5 million to collect 2.6 million pounds of trash during the two-week height of Mardi Gras season in 2018, according to city records. That was a 60% jump in spending from 2008.

That price doesn’t factor in the toll Chinese-made plastic throws take on our health and infrastructure, said Dana Eness, executive director of The Urban Conservancy. Researchers have found unsafe levels of lead and a range of other toxins in imported beads, which can remain in trees, yards and sewers well after parades. In 2018, city contractors pulled 93,000 pounds of beads from clogged catch basins along the St. Charles Avenue parade route. The headline shocked locals and got national attention.

“The reality is there’s a huge cost that New Orleanians bear, but tourists do not, in terms of wear and tear on the infrastructure, clogged drains, flooding. Things we’re paying for in all sorts of ways,” Eness said. Read the full article here.

 

Update 4

Dec 2019

Urban Conservancy Executive Director, Dana Eness, provides comment to The Advocate regarding roadway infrastructure in New Orleans and transition towards municipal water management:

Dana Eness on New Orleans Infrastructure Needs

  • New Orleans claims 1,450 square feet of road surface per person; the highest ratio of pavement per person in the country.
  • The majority of our transportation infrastructure was built in the 1960’s with population projections of 1 million residents. The city currently has less than 400,00 people. We are taxing ourselves to maintain an over-sized street system. 
  • Reducing the sizes of roadways provides space for municipal water management installations and multi-modal transportation opportunities.

Update 3

Nov 2016

Today, the City of New Orleans in partnership with StayLocal, released a Road Construction Toolkit for New Orleans Businesses. The toolkit features important contact information, practical tips and technical assistance so businesses can continue to thrive during road construction. At this time, the City is gearing up a $2.4 billion capital improvement program to repair and rebuild 400 miles of roads and subsurface infrastructure. Read the full press release here.

Important Links

 

Gentilly Resiliency District goes against flow of how New Orleans handles stormwater– An excellent summary of the Gentilly Resiliency District and what the $141 million HUD grant entails.