In 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 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 falls, 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about the UC’s stormwater initiatives BASIN and FYI.