Climate Resilience in New Orleans

Stormwater management as part of New Orleans' climate adaptation strategy

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 stormwater over pavement, into pipes and pumping it out of the city needs to be reevaluated.


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 called 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.

Local government contributed to large-scale green infrastructure implementation. In 2014, the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans funded seven initiatives whose focus was stormwater management and invested $500,000 a year until 2018 for a total of $2.5 million invested in green infrastructure projects. Article 23 of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance placed stormwater management requirements that emphasize BMP’s on all new commercial developments in Orleans Parish that are over 10,000 sq. ft.

In 2017, HUD awarded the City $141.2 million in Community Development Block Grant National Disaster Resilience grant funding for disaster resilience. New Orleans was one of only 13 jurisdictions out of 67 eligible applicants to be awarded funding from the NDRC and received the second largest amount nationally.

New Orleans’ winning proposal – Reshaping the Urban Delta – called for the creation of the city’s first comprehensive resilience district in Gentilly with projects that invest in innovative and creative solutions so that the people, culture and infrastructure can thrive.  Unfortunately, little of the funding has been spent on implementation and the project has made little progress in the past 6 years.

We’re changing how we live with water

Natural processes slow, store and filter stormwater where it July_2012_2falls, allowing it to return to the groundwater system. Nature-based solutions, or green infrastructure, 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.

Where we are today

Since the release of the UrbanWater Plan ten years ago, climate change has accelerated, requiring concerted efforts among all of Southeast Louisiana’s stakeholders to develop long-term solutions to our environmental challenges including increasingly erratic weather patterns that bring periods of extended heat, drought, as well as frequent inundations. In New Orleans many firms, nonprofit organizations, and city agencies are  working to develop innovative and impactful responses:

  • Community-based non-profits and workforce training programs including the Urban Conservancy, Water Wise Gulf South, Louisiana Green Corps, Civic Studios, and Groundwork New Orleans are working to educate public officials, workforce trainees, teachers, children, property owners, and others. Through education and support, we are empowering residents to install and maintain green infrastructure throughout New Orleans. The GNO Urban Water Collaborative is  spearheading the Water Justice Fund campaign, which advocates for a community-driven response to our drainage issues, funded through a citywide stormwater fee.
  • City departments and agencies are stepping up, too. The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans is exploring sustainable, equitable approaches to funding New Orleans’ drainage system. The Office of Resilience and Sustainability is leading efforts to develop a comprehensive Stormwater Management Master Plan for the city. And the Department of Public Works has just launched a $10M effort to clear debris from 6500 catch basins.
  • Private firms including Waggonner & Ball, Evans & Lighter, Dana Brown & Associates, Batture Engineering, Marais Consultants and Mastodonte are working to transform both the public and private domain through innovative stormwater design practices.
  • In 2023, ten years after the release of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan and the launch of the Urban Water Series, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Greater New Orleans, Inc., and the Tulane ByWater Institute organized Urban Water @ 10 to activate regional stakeholders and advance the next decade of Urban Water Plan implementation.  Urban Water @ 10 convened a wide array of diverse perspectives to assess progress, identify challenges, and develop priorities for collective impact to continue implementing the vision for living with water in the region. Through engaged activities and facilitated conversations that involved hundreds of stakeholders, ten priorities for action have risen to the surface including  a much-needed overhaul of “government structures to support action and implementation,” as evidenced by the lack of progress with the $141M Gentilly Resilience District project.

Supporting sustainable stormwater management and climate resilience in New Orleans can be achieved through investments in the people who design, install, maintain, and monitor large scale infrastructure on public spaces and small scale interventions on private properties, and in developing project management and procurement systems that enable small green sector businesses to prosper and grow.

Learn more about the the Urban Conservancy’s current contributions to these efforts at BASIN and  FYI.

Update 17

Nov 2023

More than 80% of the FYI homeowners who qualified for the survey (finished their FYI project >1 year ago) responded, giving us 102 total responses. Topics ranged from the effectiveness of green infrastructure in reducing flooding on the property, to the FYI program’s cross-pollination with other gardening nonprofit and volunteer groups over time.

View the report below. The table of contents can be used for quicker navigation.

If the embed below is giving you trouble, you can find the attachment page here.


This version of the report is interactive. You can also download a print version here

Update 16

Jun 2022

Umbrella-installed rain garden next to Stronger Hope Baptist Church in the Hoffman Triangle built to reduce localized flooding.
This thriving green infrastructure project installed by the Umbrella coalition one year ago next to Stronger Hope Baptist Church in the Hoffman Triangle is capable of holding up to 20,000 gallons of water once fully grown in.

The Urban Conservancy and their partners in the Umbrella NOLA project were featured in Grist recently. The Hoffman Triangle in Central City is one of many New Orleans neighborhoods that experiences regular localized flooding. Umbrella, a coalition of green-sector nonprofits that includes the Urban Conservancy, ThriveNOLA, Green Light New Orleans, and SOUL NOLA, works to alleviate these localized flooding issues with residential interventions, in partnership with residents and faith leaders.

“You can do two things at once. You can create space for water to go, and, if you’re thoughtful about it, you can create space within society for people who are being shut out economically.”

-Dana Eness, Executive Director of the Urban Conservancy

Read the full article here.

Update 15

Apr 2022

What should Louisiana do with $6-9 billion in infrastructure funding? The Urban Conservancy and some other local nonprofits believe that green infrastructure is the answer.

We’ve given a lot of thought to this, after Katrina and in the Urban Stormwater Plan. We have a lot of shovel-ready projects. Hopefully we will see an acceleration of those projects that are already in the pipeline.

-Dana Eness, Executive Director of the Urban Conservancy

Read the full article by Keith Twitchell here.



Update 14

Mar 2022

Keith Twitchell wrote in Biz New Orleans about the progress of the cross-sector “Green Block” project recently.

For the uninitiated, long time St. Charles fixture Avenue Pub has been working on a block-wide project, funded by a healthy mixture of nonprofit partners, grant makers, neighbors, and the pub owner herself. The project is designed by Dana Brown Associates and aims to remove over four-thousand square feet of concrete. Several forms of green infrastructure will be added, and the project has a projected storage capacity of 28,000 gallons of water.

Read more about it here.


Update 13

Nov 2021

The Water Runoff event will be held in person Nov. 30 at the Broadside.


At least four of eight New Orleans City Council runoff candidates will meet in person Nov. 30 for a policy-driven debate focusing on topics including green infrastructure, stormwater drainage and flooding, coastal restoration, hurricane protection and Sewerage & Water Board water shut-offs. Another City Council candidate who won election outright will also speak at the event, which will be held at the Broadside from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The debate is hosted by the Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans, Urban Conservancy and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, and it is sponsored by National Wildlife Federation.

Three women who lead New Orleans-based nonprofits will moderate the debate. They are: Jessica Dandridge of the Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans, Dana Eness of Urban Conservancy and Kim Reyher of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

“Everybody should be here because water impacts every aspect of our lives,” said Dandridge. “Whether you’re focused on safety, criminal justice, education, food justice or any other issue, water is at the center of it.”

The Broadside is located at 600 N. Broad Street in New Orleans. The debate will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 30. Doors will open at 5 p.m. The event is open to the public and media. Food and drinks will be available for purchase. To attend, register here.

The runoff will be on December 11.




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

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!

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.